Enlightened Conflict

what hath america wrought

October 22nd, 2015

ideas urinal

Aici lo tems s’en , va res l’Eternitat.”

<here, in this place, time moves away toward eternity>

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“This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper. “

T.S Eliot

<“The Hollow Men”>

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“Has it been in your experience that one’s affairs are always in order and that all life’s conundrums will eventually be made clear?”

David Stone

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Well.

 

what hath god wrought

 

It is always interesting to read a historical book <What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848 by Daniel Walker Howe> and look at what is happening in today’s world.

 

 

Historical note on the title of the book.

 

 

The first telegraph message, sent by inventor Samuel F.B. Morse on May 24, 1844, over an experimental line from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, was “What hath God wrought?”

 

 

At over 900 pages and pretty academic in its detail and narrative … this book is not for the faint of heart <but very interesting if you can wade through it>. The book is heavy on political history and the role politics & government played, and didn’t play, in the transformation of American society.

 

 

Simplistically you see that government has always been functionally dysfunctional constantly lurching through the decisions a country needs to make as it struggles with private versus public, growth and the well-being of its citizens <all within a Constitutional construct>.

 

 

In addition … in looking at that one particularly period of history we see everything was magnified, or amplified, by developments in communications <mails, newspaper, books, and telegraph> and mobility/transportation <trains, steamboats, canals, and roads>.

 

 

Uhm.

 

Isn’t that what technology & the internet is doing today?

 

 

 

And that magnification created the same issues we seem to discuss today:

traffic hurry disconnectd going

 

–      In 1846 Philip Hone wondered if the rapid pace of change threatened cherished values …

“everything goes fast nowadays, even the winds have begun to improve upon the speed with they have hitherto maintained; everything goes ahead but good manners and sound principles.”

 

 

 

They discussed the delicate balance of empowerment and responsibility within the citizenship … the power of government to enable individualism all the while encouraging the citizenship to use their liberty & freedoms to seek improvement.

 

 

 

–      John Quincy Adams stated …

“Liberty is power and the citizens have a responsibility to use their freedom.
The spirit of improvement is abroad upon the earth. Let not foreign nations with less liberty exceed us in ‘pubic improvement’ … to do so would ‘cast away the bounties of providence’ and doom what should become the world’s most powerful nation ‘to perpetual inferiority.’

 
Even in religious environments ‘responsible capitalism’ was discussed:

 

 

 

–      As the author points out … even in 1826 preachers were teaching …

“work hard, be thrifty, save your money, don’t go into debt, be honest in business dealings, don’t screw down the wages of those who work for you to the lowest possible level, if you manage a surplus be faithful stewards of your bounty and generous to causes.“

 

 

 

 

All the foundation things of capitalism done the right way and economic growth without sacrificing values to a better society.

 

 

 

The book does a nice job reminding everyone of the challenges any government faces.

 

 

–      Tocqueville expresses concern with the future of a democratic government.sheep

“… it rarely forces one to act but it constantly opposes itself to one’s action; it does not destroy it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize , it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes and finally reduces the nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.”

 

 

 

Mostly, as I read about a country’s transformation, I was reminded that change is never easy and in the midst of progress you do right things and wrong things and there are consequences for all <and you inevitably have an opportunity to ‘wrong the rights & right the wrongs’>.

 

 

It reminded me that we all adapt.

 

 

Countries also. Just look at capitalism.

 

 

America developed a prosperous example for capitalism and ultimately exported the example. Other countries then adapted the idea creating a customized capitalism to accommodate their needs, wants and desires <which, by the way, may not match America’s>.

 

 

Yes.

 

 

America exported capitalism …. not values or rights <or democracy>.

 

Economics is what inevitably changed behavior because as country leaders desired people to be more productive <so they could be more competitive globally> they inevitably had to give them more rights, liberties and avenues to do so.

 

 

This means that the expansion of rights was driven by economics … and only curbed by that particular country’s government ideology <or the country’s overall culture>.

 

 

I mention that because we Americans tend to look outwards with a sense of righteousness … and the outside world states unequivocally … I do not want to be exactly like you.

being yourself cahnging

 

 

I struggle to understand why we in America don’t get this.

 

Our book stores and amazon are strewn with self-help books shouting “being yourself … don’t be someone else!”“learn from the best but be nobody but yourself.’

 

 

In other words … learn the shared learning and implement as an individual.

 

 

Well.

 

 

Are countries really any different? Why wouldn’t we expect another country to want to maintain its own character and way of doing things?

 

 

In addition.

 

 

The book reminded me how grumpy I get with people who continuously claim <loudly> that America is declining <i.e., going into the shithole>.

 

 

I never really thought of us as a country of whiners, pessimists and blamers <finger pointers>.

 

 

Context and perspective … the book once again reminded me of this from a historical perspective.

 

 

The book reminded me that in the 19th century there was a relatively balanced global power <hmmmmmmmmmmm … kind of like where we may be heading today?>. Oh, and yes, there was a ‘global economy’ at that time.

 

 

And the 21st century began with an extraordinary imbalance in world power.

 

 

The United States was the only country able to project military force globally, it represented more than a quarter of the world economy and had the world’s leading “soft-power resources” in its universities and entertainment industry.

 

 

America didn’t purposefully build the imbalance … the imbalance was opportunistic and reflective of contextual situations.

 

 

What that means is that no one truly knows much about social engineering and how to “build nations.”

 

The transformation of America in the 1800’s certainly reminded me of that.

 

At times it appears like America reached its strength position despite itself.

 

 

Therefore … if we cannot be sure how to ‘build a nation’ or have some formula to improve the world hubris is dangerous. It certainly seems like what is required is a careful understanding of the context of change.

 

 

Look.

 

 

Here is what I know <and believe>.

 

 

Anyone, and any country, will be successful if it finds its pride cloaked in humility <not hubris>.

 

 

I cannot remember where I found this quote but it seems to highlight what Americans should avoid at all costs <domestically as well as internationally>:

 

 

“Sweep in as if emissaries of light bringing salvation to the natives living in a dark forest. You think you are heroes because people ask for your help and advice. You think that worth works for you will automatically work for everyone else. Your teeth are whiter and your clothes are better and suddenly that permits you to be the ultimate arbiters of public morality.

You assume America, and capitalism, is the ultimate model and you end up judging everything simply by how close it comes to your own ideal. You begin to think you have carte blanche to remake whatever you want to remake in your own image.”

—-

Speaking of humility.

 

 

We, everyone in a country leadership role, lurch back and forth between what is right and what is wrong all the while every step taken on a path with a sign that says “what is best for the country & people this way.’

 

And each step nowadays seems to be burdened by this word ‘compromise.’

 

 

Compromise implies ‘giving up something that is right or the best.’

 

 

It seems like it would be better to recognize that there is no one right way and no one right answer in heading down this path … all head down the path … it is just an argument over what shoes I want to wear that particular day.

 

 

maybe we have no ideaAnd that is … well … it all seems just fucking insane.

 

 

It seems like maybe those spewing forth the idea that the other’s ideas are stupid and the path to greatness is ‘this way’ …and it is the only way … could drink from the cup of humility and accept that our past has certainly taught us that there is no one way nor right way.

 

 

Our past is strewn with greatness intermingled with some dark aspects.

 

 

Greatness doesn’t reside in our actions or accomplishments … it resides in one’s belief in hope & the future. Greatness resides in the ability to keep an eye on the horizon and the ability to put one foot in front of the other, sometimes not knowing where your foot will exactly land, on this path of ‘better.’

 

 

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson … “America is a country of the future. It is a country of beginnings, of projects, of vast designs and expectations.”

 

 

 

 

Daniel Walker Howe writes on page 853 … “Americans live by hope for the future but their conflicting hopes for their country and their own lives provoke dissension.
Americans are constantly proposing new ideas and then wrangling over them.”

 

 

America is, and always has been, a country of the future.

 

 

America will, and always has, wrangled over ideas and hopes.

 

 

We always have and always will.

 

 

The moment we accept that, and embrace that, we accept dissension and accept that sometimes we will get it right … and sometimes we will get it wrong … because … well … while maybe being a great nation we are inevitably a great big group of people trying to do the best they can without having any specific formula for what to do.

 

 

The news of the decline & demise of America is tiring. Or maybe better said “the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” <Mark Twain>.but yes ideas matters debate hugh

 

 

Frankly.

 

 

That’s why I hack my way through 900 page history books … to gain and maintain some perspective.

 

Sure.

 

Sometimes I learn something.

 

But mostly it gives me some perspective on what is happening today.
One last random thought.

 

 

 

I am not a speechwriter nor am I politician <most likely not qualified for either> … but … it slightly puzzles me that we don’t hear more Ralph Waldo Emerson or Adams or … well … many of the great American philosophical thinkers of the mid 1800’s quoted or used to make a point.

 

 

They had the ability to capture the American spirit, the American desire to ‘do things’, the American power of individualism and the American belief that government supports to ‘better.’

 

 

But, hey, that’s me.

And if they did … well … then I couldn’t use all their great words and I wouldn’t have a blog.

who hates who in middle east

October 19th, 2014

conflict enlightened

“One of the enduring problems with certain societies in the world – and this is certainly true of a lot of places in the Middle East – is that the capacity for self-governance and self-organizing just isn’t there. It has to do with history.”

 

“Everybody in the Middle East wants to explain why they’re right.”

=

P.J. O’Rourke

 

 

Ok.

 

If you live in America you tend to believe any and all of these things:

 

–          Everyone in the Middle East hates America more than anyone else

 

–          Muslims hate Christians more than anyone else

 

–          We can protect ourselves from terrorists in the Middle East by doing something in the Middle East

 

–          The Middle East is made up of one big Muslim war mongering horde under the guise of multiple borders with some country names

 

–          The Middle East is representative of a new conflict driven by recent foreign policy decisions

 

 

Shit.

 

I could keep writing but my head is beginning to hurt.

 

While I think about this topic a lot I do not write often about it because the Middle East is so complex and has so many historical aspects that it can get frustrating to try and make sense of a relatively confusing intertwined issue.

 

And then I came across this amazing infographic of “who hates whom in the middle east”:

=

http://www.fastcodesign.com/3035595/infographic-of-the-day/who-hates-whom-in-the-middle-east?partner=ps02101rss

=

 

Well.

 

I imagine my main thought to share is that while we Americans like to believe the world revolves around us … it doesn’t.

 

Sometimes <simply because we are the biggest & typically most proactively involved nation>.

 

But most times not.

 

So.

 

I will close after viewing the infographic one more time by answering the beliefs I began with:

 

Hugh McLeod popularity

Hugh McLeod popularity

–          America is not the most hated in the Middle East.

 

 

 

–          Muslims actually hate some other Muslims more than they hate America.

 

 

–          We cannot protect America from terrorist activity by doing something in the Middle East. Why? Because every time we do something it gives others in the area the opportunity to use America as a ‘reason for being.’ By the way … that goes for any non-Muslim country.

 

Separately.

 

The idea a country of 300+million can stop one terrorist or a small group of terrorists dedicated to doing something … is ludicrous. The implication behind that is we will always be smarter than the other guys. The ‘other side’ has smart people too. Bad people with focused intentions to do bad things are very difficult to stop.

 

Sadly … they will win on occasion.

 

 

–          The Middle East is a complex mix of countries with varying government structures within a religion that does not separate ‘church & state.’ Their religion is integral to their governing.

Also.

Americans like lines. Lines as in borders. It gives us some sense of order and ways to judge who is in the right and who is in the wrong. In some places in the Middle East borders, these lines we like so much, are sometimes blurry if not arbitrary. We need to remember, particularly in the Middle East, that countries are defined more often by ideas and not by borders.

 

 

–          The most recent conflict in the middle east was not created by America <which the thought America “created this” is actually such an arrogant pompous thought it makes those in the middle east even grumpier> foreign policy … our foreign policy may have stifled the conflict on occasion or exacerbated the conflict on occasion but the conflict has existed since before America ever existed. Our only true failing, with good intentions, was that as a new country with a fresh ideology we believed we could resolve the ongoing gg answers are everywhereconflict.

And in failing to do so <as anyone would have failed> we failed to step back but instead have not accepted the failure and have continuously tried to course correct <with ongoing zig zags of positive & negative effects of which our political pundits pick & choose the aspects they want to pontificate over>.

 

 

That’s it.

My Middle East rant for the month.

 

If you want to view my favorite Middle East post here you go:

http://brucemctague.com/a-new-map-of-the-middle-east

 

stamping out hunger … or incentive to work (and the middle class)

April 10th, 2014

 

 food stamps wtf

“When wealth is passed off as merit, bad luck is seen as bad character. This is how ideologues justify punishing the sick and the poor. But poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw. Stigmatise those who let people die, not those who struggle to live.” —Sarah Kendzior

 

 

Ok.

 

When you begin discussing food stamps or unemployment benefits or even minimum wage it seems to me that you begin wandering into the poverty discussion.

And then it suddenly becomes this slightly odd, and slightly disturbing, discussion swinging back & forth between basic sustenance to survive versus the ability to prosper type stuff … as well as … incentive to work or ‘do better’ in life stuff.

 

I imagine the issue is that discussing food stamps and any unemployment budget cuts crosses both ideological and the practical.

As well as opinion versus practical.

 

Well.

 

I keep using practical because while we invest a lot of energy debating theory <desire to work versus ‘sucking the system dry’> … practically … what we are discussing is a proverbial doom loop.

 

I recently heard someone said something like: “… food stamps <and unemployment benefits> drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives if America didn’t make cuts to food stamps <or slow the support system in some way>.”

 

Wow.

The idea that actually having food could possibly drain the will of someone <in any way> is slightly absurd.

 

Well.

 

How about hunger motivating ambition?

That seems almost as absurd.

 

Look.

 

I would like to point out that something like 40% of households on food stamps have at least one person working.

 

I would also like to point out some basic truths about people.

 

courage doesnt always roarIn general … the majority want to work <or do something worthwhile in terms of productivity>. People like to ‘do.’

 

Now.

In general <if you do not agree with the first statement> I could suggest that America has a ‘shirking segment’ at both the top and bottom …. shirking work <yet … we seem to focus on the bottom>.

 

In general … an even larger majority are willing to do what it takes to not have to worry about how they can afford next week … let alone next day .

 

In general it is only a sliver of the population who takes advantage of the system <which implies they don’t want to really work>. It is foolish to believe one person <or a smaller minority> which may actually feel this way … or behave this way … defines the behavior of the entire group.

 

 

I admit I find it slightly shocking that this level of ignorance <or cynicism> is so common in America.

 

I would also like to point out that the highest food stamp amount a single person receives is something like $200 a month <you try living on that>.

 

Yeah.

 

Take a minute.

 

Divide 200 by 30. This is $6.66 a day.

 

Yet if I receive one more email touting that the poor were dining on prime filet steaks and lobster … or that all the unemployed were lazy unincentived-to-work couch potatoes … my head will explode.

 

Regardless.

 

I think I am surprised at how simplistically we address this issue <among others>.

 

We can take food stamps away … but in the end … someone has to pay for the food.

 

Me <being me> I will use children as an example.

 

According to census and government data from 2012, 22% of American children live in poverty and 16 million live in households that are food insecure food stamps food insecurewhich means one in five children do not have regular access to enough food.

 

In 2012, the No Kid Hungry Campaign surveyed more than 1000 K-8 public school teachers across the country with results that should give everyone pause.

 

–          Three out of five teachers reported regularly seeing children in their classrooms who come to school hungry because they are not getting enough to eat at home.

–          56% of teachers said that “a lot” or “most” of their students rely on school meals as their primary source of nutrition.

–          More than half of the teachers surveyed said they frequently purchase food out of their own money for hungry kids, spending on average $26 a month.

 

Around 30.6m lunches and 13.15 million breakfasts are served to kids on a daily basis.

 

Oh.

And think about this.

Although the meals are heavily subsidized, with some kids qualifying for free meals and a smaller proportion for reduced price meals <40cents for lunch and 30cents for breakfast>, parents are still struggling to pay and defaults are on the rise.

 

A February 2012 survey carried out by the School Nutrition Association (SNA) found that among their members 53% of school districts were experiencing an increase in unpaid meals.

 

According to Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokesperson for the SNA “it seems to be a lot of the families that are hovering around the threshold of poverty <that is families not poor enough to qualify for free meals but still too poor to pay the reduced rate> are the ones who can’t pay.”

 

Suffice it to say that a food stamp program isn’t a crutch but rather plays an integral role in basic sustenance for a shitload of people.

 

But … you know what?

 

We have a bigger issue.

 

We have an attitude issue.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, poverty is a real issue.

 

But the perception of poverty <to middle class> has become a reality in many people’s minds. This is an attitudinal issue. By the way … this is as ‘real’ to people as the actual thing <scary but true>.

 

So this perception, while only a perception, makes it a real issue.

 

Government figures show one in seven Americans is food insecure.

According to Gallup, in August, one in five said they have, at times during the last year, lacked money <i.e., did not have> to buy food that they or their families needed. I do not need a Gallup poll to know that an even larger percentage feel they lack the money <i.e., believed they did not have> to meet the needs of their family <that is the attitudinal part>

 

By the way … just to get some politics out of the way … both figures are roughly the same as when Obama was elected.

 

 

This is not an administrative issue but a cultural issue.

 

However you want to discuss the topic of cuts or benefits … the question is not whether the vulnerable will be hammered … but rather by how much.

 

And poverty reaches into the heads of everyone at all income levels as a perception issue.

 

Middle class people feel like they could become poverty stricken at any moment.

Therefore. They are feeling like they are getting hammered too.

 

<so how sympathetic can you actually be to someone else getting hammered if your own head is getting bashed in>

 

In the past five years or so the middle class and the poor people have been getting slammed.

 

Slammed in terms of having less.

Less , in the case of middle class, may not be actual poverty but it FEELS like poverty to them because it is ‘less than I had.’

 

Overall the problem is the gnawing away of average living standards and coping head thoughtsspecifically how the effects hammer you even moreso the lower your income.

 

So maybe while real poverty is important to discuss and think about … in order to get everyone aligned attitudinally we should be thinking about a poverty attitude at all income levels <albeit the highest income ‘less than’ is ludicrous to anyone in another income class>.

What we seem to be ignoring is that this group … a large group … has simply fallen into a coping strategy.

 

In fact … I could argue that all of America has simply fallen into a coping strategy.

 

And as noted in a variety of business opinion papers I have written … coping is stagnant seeking and not growth seeking.

 

To make my point that coping is not effective attitudinally.

 

–          in Michigan black male life expectancy is lower than male life expectancy in Uzbekistan;

–          in Detroit black infant mortality is on a par with Syria (before the war).

–          over a period of 18 years, America’s white working class – particularly women – have started dying younger.

 

 

I shared that to suggest there are tangible outcomes to simply coping and we need to address the coping strategy as the issue.

 

Is this about equality or inequality? Or even the ‘haves versus the have nots’?

 

Not really.

 

This is attitudinal.

Attitudinal with real world behavioral repercussions.

 

It makes it simpler to focus it on poverty … and that is okay … as long as we recognize that poverty is a combination of reality <people focused on surviving life> and perception <people worried about surviving lifestyle>.

 

I also imagine it all harkens back to President Lyndon Johnson in a way.

 

He used lots of great words to express some insightful thoughts on this issue.

 

In attempting to help people out of poverty, Johnson realized that he was making American society more egalitarian by lessening the gap between rich and poor, but he did not see the action he was taking as detrimental to the wealthy.

 

His thoughts on solving the poverty issue were not a zero sum game … in which one group’s gains promised another group’s losses.

 

“Our history has proved that each time we broaden the base of abundance we create new industry, higher production, increased earnings, and better income for all.” – L.  Johnson

 

We should all have this attitude.

 

But it is difficult to do so in the USA because we have a slightly warped view on poverty.

<and I do not share this to not suggest poverty is real … just that we have a skewed perspective in the USofA>.

 

Poverty for a United States household of 4 is defined as annual income of $23,492.coping want life back

This is $2,000 MORE THAN the median household income for a family of 4 in … well <insert a big ‘gulp’ sound here> … uhm … Great Britain.

 

 

It is  fact that the amount of true poverty in the US is considerably less than in the EU. US is a prosperous nation.

 

However … the definition of poverty in the USA is far more generous than in the EU and grows annually.

 

I imagine I am asking that we should not confuse the definition of poverty with its reality.

 

Timbro <a Swedish economics research institution> published “eu vs us” showing how the various EU countries would rank in terms of prosperity if they were US states.

Pretty nearly the entire EU would rank about 45th to beyond 51st in terms of prosperity.

UK would rank 48th <along with Arkansas and Mississippi> and 55% of the British would be defined as living in poverty.

 

The analysis includes measures of material prosperity for “Americans living in poverty” and for ALL Europeans.

By most measures the average poor American has a higher standard of living than the average non poor European.

 

The US poor are more likely to own their own homes, have more rooms and living space, have more property, are more likely to own 2 or more cars, have an attached garage and have more household appliances, TV’s, computers, cell phones, etc. than the average “non poor” European.

 

 

Now.

That doesn’t necessarily refer to ‘poverty’ but I am attempting to give some perspective on what ‘poor’ is in reality.

 

Look.

I don’t believe it is important that we argue whether we feel impoverished or not but instead we discuss increasing abundance for all.

 

 

Things like food stamps … fighting poverty … using LBJ words … come down to a moral basis:

 

    “Because it is right, because it is wise.”

 

To me, attitudinally, we need to create a mindset of an America ‘in which every citizen shares all the opportunities of his society.’

 

 

I use these words in comparison to ‘citizens simply coping.’

 

Now.

 

There is a term called ‘soulless wealth.’

 

‘Soulless wealth’ is abundant wealth that remains inaccessible to all but a relative few.

 

Soulless wealth typifies a society divided between haves and have-nots.

 

Well.

 

I would suggest that soulless wealth is not just a tangible economic concept but one that resides in the minds of people … at all class levels and income levels.

 

Whoa … how can that be?

 

–          Those at the lower incomes who use <or abuse> the system to attain whatever wealth level they achieve is soulless.

 

–          Those at the higher levels who abuse the system to create abundant wealth is soulless.

 

–          Those in the middle class who, out of fear of poverty, use the system by whatever means to avoid the fear is soulless.

 

Soulless wealth, the issue, is attitudinal. And attitudinal at all income levels.

 

I say that because we talk about welfare and food stamps and unemployment benefits as if they are dollars and cents like decisions … and as we say those things we are avoiding the overall attitude of America.

 

The few talking heads who blather away on TV have lost touch.

They use soaring words of hope … and bow their heads when speaking of the despair of poverty … and then move into working hard and earning … and … well … they have lost touch.

 

The truth?

 

People are simply coping.

 

And coping means that all this other talk is irrelevant.

 

 

Here is the real deal.

 

 

For all the talk about ‘getting a free pass in life’ through handouts … most people know that Life is hard.

 

And they are okay with that.

 

It reminds me of a great scene in West Wing:

I never imagined at $55,000 a year, I’d have trouble making ends meet. And my wife brings in another 25. My son’s in public school. It’s no good. I mean, there’s 37 kids in the class, uh, no art and music, no advanced placement classes. Other kids, their mother has to make them practice the piano. You can’t pull my son away from the piano. He needs teachers. I spend half the day thinking about what happens if I slip and fall down on my own front porch, you know? It should be hard. I like that it’s hard. Putting your daughter through college, that’s-that’s a man’s job. A man’s accomplishment. But it should be a little easier. Just a little easier. ‘Cause in that difference is… everything.

 

 

People are willing to work hard.

 

coping and hoping They just ask for two things:

 

–          I don’t want to cope … I want hope.

 

–          I am willing to work hard … but could you just make it a little easier.

 

 

Unfortunately … there are some dollars and cents attached to this.

 

People are willing to work hard if they think they are getting a fair deal in return.

People are willing to work hard if they get a little help now and then to give them a breather.

 

By the way.

 

This isn’t about ‘getting something for free’ … this is about fairness and being the best you can be.

 

Look.

 

Coping sucks.

Coping isn’t fair.

Coping isn’t being your best.

Coping doesn’t lead to greatness.

 

But we have a coping economy and population.

 

That’s the issue.

 

That’s why people are so angry about perceived handouts and the so called ‘welfare state’ and things like that.

 

We all need to remember … poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw. We should be less angry … be interested in refinding our soul <as we continue to seek some wealth – which is a good thing by the way> … and our leaders need to figure out how to get people to stop coping and start thinking bigger.

 

Lastly.

Before you get angry <on this topic>.

 

I do not begrudge anyone who is feeling like they are coping … but it would be nice if most of us kept coping in perspective.  Using myself to begin the perspective … I discuss poverty … and I certainly understand financial stress … but I doubt I, and many others,  do not truly grasp poverty.

Why?

I have never been in a situation where I was afraid I would starve to death while I worked to death.

 

Just think about that before you get too angry.

our souls only now awakening …

October 16th, 2013

“Our souls, which are only now beginning to awaken after the long reign of materialism, harbor seeds of desperation, unbelief, regrets soul-knows-what-to-do-to-heallack of purpose. The whole nightmare of the materialistic attitude, which has turned the life of the universe into a purposeless game, is not yet over. And yet, a weak light glimmers, like a tiny point in an enormous circle of blackness ….” – Vassily Kandinsky in 1912

 

 

Oh my.

I loved this quote from the moment I first laid eyes on it.

To be fair … I am totally going to misuse this quote … which was written about art. But if you are like me and do not know shit about art then you will be able to come along for the ride as I use it ignorantly … but in the way it spoke to me way beyond art.

 

It spoke to me in a way that explained the sense of desperation I sometimes hear people speak of when speaking of today’s world.capitalism desperate

 

About how so many people think that being materialistic and greed is the prevalent sense of ‘being’ throughout society … and the world .. today.

 

Oddly <just my opinion>.

 

I don’t really believe people think that way. Or maybe better said is that they don’t want to think that way. I believe the majority of people simply act in a materialistic mode because they sense there is there no other path available … if they don’t the other guy will and … well … they will get left behind and not get their ‘fair share’ of whatever the prize appears to be.

Let’s call it materialism survival mode.

 

Therefore the desperation I am talking about is truly a derivative of knowing that there is actually something is better. That materialism is a path with no real destination … in other words … as soon as you have what you have you want more.

 

We want better <most of us> than this.

Better just doesn’t seem so attainable these days.

 

In addition.

In the sense of desperation … or how I just wrote “who will stop the madness?” <  http://brucemctague.com/madness-in-the-world-armageddon-and-a-dose-of-reality   > I admit that I don’t hear people using words like ‘weak light glimmering.’

 

They just see darkness … and … well … madness in the world,

 

Me?

I see it.

I see the weak light glimmering.

 

I see it in people themselves <in how I described where I believe the desperation evolves from>.

 

I see it in generations <as in ‘turnings’ described by Straus & Howe and cyclical attitudes and behaviors over generations … i.e., we have been here before attitudinally>.

 

I see it simply as the evolution of capitalism <which is the basic economic model for materialism … although we should all note that ‘materialism ‘ is a human attitude & behavior wrought from within and not from without>.

 

Anyway.

The capitalism evolution is neither good nor bad … simply the evolution … and what is occurring is the natural friction that occurs during evolution <please note … I do not see this as ‘revolution’>.

 

I could also note that there is natural friction that occurs in any change … just that when an entire economic model creates friction it has some larger repercussions.

 

thinking dialectic crisisSo.

I decided to share Hegel and Schumpeter thoughts because it can possibly explain why there is a sense of desperation … or maybe a sense of uneasiness and why it is natural to feel this way.

 

I say this drawing upon Hegelian philosophy <thesis- crisis – synthesis> and ultimately Schumpeter who drew the basis for his thinking off of Hegel.

According to Schumpeter there is a natural process of creative destruction  within capitalism based on the affect the “cultural contradictions of capitalism” have:

 

–          The Process of Creative Destruction.

 

I)  Capitalism cannot be stationary.

It revolutionizes the economic structure “from within”, destroying what went before through a process of competition that affects costs as much as quality. Creativity in consumer goods, methods of transport, of production, systems of organization, search for markets and technology. It is a process that undermines traditional supports existing at a given moment, weakening its own system. Moreover, capitalism devitalizes the idea of “property” <the existence of great and small shareholders>.

 

*** He is simply saying that capitalism inevitably empowers anyone anywhere to build something … and as that is built something has to be destroyed <or replaced> to accommodate it. Capitalism encourages individual thinking and ideation and business building. Interestingly … it is actually anti-establishment and anti-‘maintaining the norm.’ There is no normal in capitalism beyond its ongoing self destruction and reincarnation.

 

 

–          II)  Rationality

Capitalism encourages rationality in behaviour. Rationality involves, on the one hand, the “maximization” of particular interests of individuals and groups, the use of the instrumental means in a coherent form, and in the same way a series of readaptations empirically controlled by a procedure of flawed -testing. On the other hand, rationalization rushes into both private life and cultural forms. Consumption wins against accumulation, diminishing the desireability of incomes above a certain level. At the same time, however, when the breaks of certain values associated with ethical or religious tradition fail (the sophrosyne), irrational components of behaviour that are critical for capitalism emerge and cannot be refuted with rational arguments, especially when based on long term considerations.

 

 

capitalism cynicism*** Capitalism is a constant struggle between the rational <let’s say ‘profit & dollars & cents’ in this case> and the irrational <let’s call this the ‘feel good’ intangible in this case> within people. It is interesting to note he suggests that money is a means to an end. In other words … you could earn a dollar a year and save only a dollar a year and be okay with that if you could consume <buy, eat, live to what you desire> whatever you wanted and needed. Regardless.  This constant struggle occurs and when it is perceived to be out of balance there will be friction as compromise is debated <and neither side wants to let go of what they have or what they think – which are often inevitably linked>.

 

 

 

III)   The Obsolescence of the Entrepreneurial Function.

Increasing difficulties for the classical function of management. Increasing importance of specialized groups. The context, moreover, has been accustomed to change and each time a greater number of factors are calculable. The success of business ends up in removing the owners.

 

 

*** He is not suggesting that entrepreneurship or small business becomes obsolete in capitalism. What he is saying is that capitalism inherently makes good small businesses into big businesses and as that happens they lose the ‘entrepreneurial function.’ In other words …. Capitalism encourages small to become big and in doing so they destroy what made them successful in the first place <and inevitably they are ‘destructed’ either from within or from without – by small business that destroys them>.

 

 

 

–          IV) Protecting Strata.

In the modern era there was a symbiosis between the nobility and the productive sectors. The former occupied the State organization, guided political decisions and supplied officials for the army (the bourgeoisie was only sometimes in charge of local administration). It was a sector that survived the social and technical conditions that produced it. In conclusion: the bourgeoisie is politically defenseless without the protection of non-bourgeoisie sectors, but capitalism, however, encourages the breaking up of the precapitalist framework of society.

 

*** Capitalism is most effective with a strong middle class and not a massive gap between the haves and have nots. Effective capitalistic societies will strive to reset when the gap is to large and there will be inevitable conflict/friction when this occurs.

 

 

–          V)   Intellectuals.

Characterized as those who exercise the power of the spoken and written word, they are used to not having any direct responsibility in practical matters and thus, they lack a direct knowledge of experience. They encourage self-conceived attitudes as “critical”, more from a logic of opposition, we could say, than from a logic of government. There exists a parallel between education and the scale of moral values in the intellectual sectors and the administrative or bureaucratic sectors against the values and technical criteria of the economic system as it operates.

 

 

*** I find it interesting that while Schumpeter is NOT discussing governmental structures <democracy, republic, socialism, communism> he gets right to the core of the issue in that inevitably officials who make decisions for the everyday person are most often not the everyday person nor do they think like the everyday person. Therefore the economic system may be operating at odds to what they believe is the right thing to do.

 

 

There you go.

Schumpeter uses these five arguments to discuss the process of what he calls ‘the self-destruction of capitalism.’

 

Now.

Self-destruction is not suggesting capitalism destructs as in ‘ends’ … but rather  that in its ongoing self destruction <or crisis in Hegelian terms> it recreates itself <synthesis> into something new.why things keep happening indexed

 

Heck.

Now that I have written all this I can see why there is so much angst in the world today.

 

It doesn’t really matter whether it is a ‘natural conflict’ or not.

Conflict is conflict. It is friction.

And in this time and place it is friction upon friction.

 

Not only is the entire system being reshaped <as it is cracked and put back together again> but the generational attitude infrastructure is also in conflict.

What I mean by that is … the way people used to behave versus a desire to behave differently.

 

In the end.

 

Why are so many of us feeling uneasy … maybe even harboring some thread of desperation in what we see in the world today?

 

‘Our souls, which are only now beginning to awaken after the long reign of materialism, harbor seeds of desperation, unbelief, lack of light the way dont fight the darknesspurpose …’

 

Maybe our souls are simply awakening.

 

Gee.

 

Who wouldn’t see a glimmer of light thinking that way?

recurring issues

July 18th, 2013

“The current generation now sees everything clearly, it marvels at the errors, it laughs at the folly of its ancestors, not seeing that this chronicle is all overscored by divine fire, that every letter of it cries recurring issues nostalgiaout, that from everywhere the piercing finger is pointed at it, at this current generation; but the current generation laughs and presumptuously, proudly begins a series of new errors, at which their descendants will also laugh afterwards.” ― Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls

 

“A base nation crucifies or poisons its wise men, and lets its fools rave and rot in its streets. A wise nation obeys the one, restrains the other, and cherishes all.”  – John Ruskin

 

Ok.

On occasion I like to remind everyone that we are not in unique times .. well … okay … not as unique as we like to make it out to be.

Remind everyone that the issues we face today … we have faced before.

And while we know that issues are recurring … they still naturally ebb and flow across generations so that as they arise … recurring from some inexperienced point in the past … they seem new to us now.

 

I could select gobs <that is more than a few but less than a gaggle> but let me highlight 3:

–          Government

–          Greed

–          Education

 

Issue 1: Government.

What about governments yesterday?

 

“I weep for the liberty of my country when I see at this early day of its successful experiment that corruption has been imputed to many members of the House of Representatives, and the rights of the people have been bartered for promises of office.” – Andrew Jackson

 

Ah. Today?

recurring problem govtWe experience the uncoordinated actions of a seemingly corrupted entity which we desire to be a well-oiled uncorrupted athlete.

Andrew Jackson in the early 1800’s weeps over the corruption of congress. Concerned by how holding the position in office often meant not holding the rights of the people first and foremost.

Well.

Government is always in a tricky position.

They are elected by the people to not always the people insure they get what they want … but rather get what they need. We elect, and select, leaders to make decisions with regard to the ‘best interest’ of us. And, yet, nowadays politicians seek to gain the elected position simply by promising to the people voting … what they want.

I could argue that our political system claims to be a democracy when in fact it is closer to what Schumpeter suggested was an Elite democracy <pessimists may call it a version of oligarchy> but I will not. We have a democracy … flawed … American … and ours.

We currently appear to have a congress where it appears that most of the elected representatives do not serve the best interest of the people but rather to themselves and their political directives <and support … which inevitably leads to some type of corruption>.

Oops.

This has happened before.

Regardless.

There is getting votes. And then there is getting respect. And respect always comes down to actions … the deeds of those who have been elected by the people.

Today, yesterday … tomorrow. Doesn’t matter.

Corruption will always tempt those who seek leadership positions.

Power will always tempt those who seek leadership positions.

Some will succumb to temptation.

Some will not.

 

Now.

There has been some relatively recent research done to show a trend in many of the largest First World democracies of the growing mistrust of the government <and PewResearch has ongoing surveys to support aspects of the trend>.

While in the 1950’s ¾ ‘s of American would say that they trust in their government to do the right things that number declined to just about 40% by 2004 (Wilson/DiIulio 2007) and interestingly <to make a point> it hovers around that number in 2013.

This research showed an ongoing belief of American citizens that the political system is unlikely to respond to their needs and beliefs. This is also sometimes referred to as political efficacy.

Political scientists measure this political efficacy where political efficacy consists of two parts:

–          internal efficacy – the belief that to be able to understand and take part in politics

–          external efficacy – the belief that the system will respond to the citizens

 

While most studies show now significant change in Internal efficacy in the United States, external efficacy has been steadily declining since the mid-1960’s (Wilson/Dilulio 2007).

 

All that said.

This is a recurring issue. Most likely no worse nor no better than it has been at certain points in the past. I say this just to suggest governmental Armageddon is not upon us. It may be frustrating. It may be aggravating. And it is certainly not good for the citizens who want shit to not only get done … but get done correctly. But it is an ongoing issue.

In the end governments will always be a recurring issue because … well … it is about a group of people <not some intangible concept called ‘government’>.

And while recurring … we <the people> can always do something to make it less worse if we elect to <pun intended>.

 

Next.

And separately.

Separately so as to insure I am not suggesting this next topic is associated with the politician thought I just shared … people and greed.

 

Issue 2: Greed.greedy selfish fools

I could have called this ‘the desire for “more.”

More money … or the accumulation of more … however you define wealth.

 

“It has always seemed strange to me… the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” – John Steinbeck

 

“A man is usually more careful of his money than he is of his principles.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Whew.

What an issue.

I will begin by saying … “quod satis est” <what is enough>.

 

Greed is more likely an ongoing societal distinction between indulgence versus overindulgence, indulging or decadence or “quod satis est” <what is enough> …  in the end … it doesn’t really matter because it is simply a discussion on what is pure decadence – or greed – and what do we actually deserve as people.

I imagine it is also a discussion on what Horace <who discussed ‘what is enough’> or what has also been suggested as ‘the hollowness of unparalleled prosperity where we need to recognize the unacceptable limits <on prosperity> and finding some sanity in enough.’

 

Schumpeter suggested <among some things I don’t agree with> that “moral poverty lurks within capitalism.”

I do like this thought.

It isn’t that capitalism IS moral poverty but that within capitalism LURKS the possibility of moral poverty.

 

What that suggests is that there is a constant battle between prosperity and morals.

 

And I agree with that suggestion.

 

I believe that is the battle we face day in and day out.

We face it today … we faced it yesterday … and we will face it <as a group of humans interacting> tomorrow.

So with that said … I state unequivocally that ‘greed’ does not rule <despite the fact I see a shitload of people suggesting that greed is leading to all the issues we face>.

Greed, among the few … a minority, will always be in constant battle with the majority who is constantly fighting against moral poverty.

That is life.

That is economy.

That is society.

That is our salvation as a society and groups of people interacting … this ongoing conflict.

recurring issues thinking-dialectic-crisisI read somewhere <I apologize to the original source> that this ongoing conflict can be captured in two key aspects:

 

–              1. Perversion of capitalism

Capitalism is a living breathing organism. One in which some microbes fight with corrupted intent to pervert the overall organism. The organism also has other microbes which are healthy and can sometimes even attack and destroy the other bad microbes. Corruption should not, probably cannot, kill capitalism. For capitalism itself can kill corruption.

This is kind of my poor medical organism version of Schumpeter’s thought on creative destruction.

 

–              2. Cynicism of external factors

Perversion of the system aside … if our perception is that the system is rigged by the few perverted … we become cynical. We lose optimism. We maybe even get angry at the perverts <sorry … couldn’t resist>.

I am certainly not suggesting the American ideals are not solid and intent unequivocally sound … or that all Americans are wasteful and perverted <morally> or that every shred of what made America great is gone. At its core America remains a place of possibility and hope. I say that despite the fact people have become quite cynical. Cynical not only about the system but also about their hopes on whether they can succeed and prosper within the system. This has become a deep and increasingly entrenched cynicism. At its worst this cynicism translates into an overall cynical with regard to what it is to be America <which includes, but is not solely, capitalism> and an American <interestingly … I actually could say this about many countries and their citizens as I scan the map today>.

 

This deep cynicism is important and relevant because it affects <either directly or indirectly> our day to day behavior coinciding with, or against, our virtues <moral compass … ethics>.

And that matters because non-virtuous behavior, or vice, leads to an overall ideology of “putting profits before people.”

This can be manifested in a variety of ways: by taking imprudent and excessive risks with other people’s money; by selling products and services that harm consumers, families, and society; and by engaging in outright fraud. Today, of course, we are suffering from all of the above.

Now.

We have experienced this before. There was certainly an overall decay of moral integrity that proceeded both the current recession as well as the Great Depression. Remember that the 1929 stock market crash and the ensuing Depression was precipitated by a decade called ‘the roaring ’20s’ … a prosperous decade marked by materialism and lack of moral discipline. It was certainly a period in business where leaders and organizations certainly ignored legal restraint and had little, or no, regard for accepted rules or standards.

What is currently glibly being called ‘greed’ is actually a combination of vice, virtue and materialism all in a battle against moral poverty. These are all recurring aspects and dynamics of civilization itself.

 

Regardless.

Without getting too theoretical on the dynamics of civilizations and culture … suffice it to say that today we are a society of indulgers and accumulators.

A significant population … while feeling stretched or challenged economically … is actually rich beyond belief in terms of what is available to all of us 24 hours a day.  We are seemingly continuously seduced by the urge to acquire … and acquire more … and indulge <when the opportunity arises>.

I don’t have anything against it. And I certainly understand the psychology of ‘once you have something not only do you not want to not have it anymore … but you want more’ <or the next step up>. You may stop and think a little about why it is we can’t stop wanting more or why there’s never enough stuff … but don’t invest the energy … it is simply part of human nature.

Money leads to lifestyle upgrades. But, once again, that is fraught with conflict. Psychologists call it ‘hedonistic adaptation.’

Once you achieve the income you desired … well … you go back to desiring more.

 

In the end on this topic.

I would suggest that the recurring issue is not really greed <albeit that is an easy target for us> but rather ‘hedonistic adaptation.’

Our natural adaptation to having more … is to wanting more <and invariably expecting that the ‘more’ we currently have is what we deserve>.

Hedonistic sounds horrible.

Good.

That makes it a recurring issue … some people … despite innate human behavior patterns … just don’t want to think and do horrible things. Therein lies the ongoing conflict.

 

Next.

Issue 3: education

Yes. Even education is a recurring issue.

 

Aristotle said … “the education of the citizens in the spirit of their constitution. Sadly, one which nowadays is generally neglected.”

 

I believe I could simply stop here by making the point that if Aristotle was bitching about education back in his day & age … this may be the ultimate recurring issue.

The proper education of our youth is a tangled discussion with multiple paths to the same good destination <what is best for our youth>.

Suffice it to say the discussion most often revolves around preparing someone for a profession <contributing economically rather than societally> versus preparing someone for Life & contributing to society not just economy <and the practical balance between the two>.

Skew it toward profession and we end up with technically qualified people less enlightened in social responsibility.

Skew it toward Life and we end up with socially enlightened people not qualified to actually do anything.

 

Education of the young is always about challenging and growing the mind so that they can be productive … in Life and within the economy. We want adults to be balanced so we need to educate kids from a balanced perspective.

 

Now. The web has changed some aspects of education from a balance standpoint.

While many people are pushing education toward a more pragmatic/practical direction <specifically preparing young for professional practical jobs> the web is actually challenging education to become more societally knowledgeable.

In the not too distant past world view of the majority in a community was measured in mere miles. Opinions and views were driven from a local if not regional purview.

Today? Opinions and views are measured from a global perspective. The kid down the street can know as much about what is happening across the ocean as they do in the street off the next road. This means local opinions & views are being challenged more and more <which creates some different issues for older generations but that is a different post>.

That said … the role of social consciousness, and capitalism <or the professional aspects> within an education system has been debated for centuries. Even good ole Al Einstein weighed in:

 

“Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals. This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.” – Albert Einstein

 

Well. Capitalism shouldn’t cripple individuals. And it doesn’t. In and within itself it can be motivating and positive to the growth of individuals <and society> and it is part of our growing up education to understand this.

Balance is the key.

Education creates the foundation for good productive citizens. Citizens part of a whole. To be whole is to be part.

Education will always be a recurring issue because we will always debate balance <and people are involved>.

 

Whew.

So those are the big 3 recurring issues I see … or rather the three I decided to focus on out of the gobs I could have.

 

And we maybe should note that these issues are eternal.

Not because they are issues of systems and processes and programs <albeit we act like they are because they are tangible> they are issues of people and minds and thinking. Therefore they are recurring sources of conflict amongst people.

 

We may elect to focus on government.

Or on businesses.

Or on the education system.

 

Inevitably we are debating ideology.

And … well … the future.

And why is it all so important?

Heck. Mostly because we are talking about our kids and future generations. We may couch it all in “what I want” and “what is best for me” and “what is fair for me” but inevitably, deep down, we recognize that these discussions lead to outcomes that affect far beyond ourselves.

It affects <in a big picture way> the viability of our countries <regardless where you live> but more importantly it affects the little people <children>.recurring issues why because

 

In the end.

It was philosopher Leszek Kolakowski that said “civilizations cannot live in despair.”

Recurring issues rarely, if ever, become Armageddon issues because inevitably we people seek to find an optimistic interpretation in the despair itself.

Something good comes from the bad.

Learning from the failures of the system.

We seek to NOT live in despair.

 

No matter what country you are living in as you read this I would suggest that we seek a wise nation obeys the wise, restrains the fools, and cherishes all who make up the nation.

repairing your faults (fixing america)

March 29th, 2012

 

“The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” 

==

Alexis de Tocqueville

 

———–

 

Similar to Alexis lately I am keenly aware of America’s faults … but just as much of its virtues.

 

I also find that many of my friends are also keenly aware of America’s flaws (and, lately, not so much on the virtues).

 

We are not alone.

 

 

In recent polling, more than two-thirds of Americans said they were pessimistic about the future of their country.

 

 

In another survey, however, 86 percent said they were proud patriots who’d live no place else.

 

 

America is Flawed

 

 

It reminded me of something Sinclair Lewis said:

“Intellectually I know that America is no better than any other country; emotionally, I know she is better than every other country.”

 

Many of us have troubled hearts and many of us wonder if America can repair her faults.

 

 

I love a good philosophical discussion but, in the end, I am a solutions guy.

 

 

To my own fault, when asked, inevitably I have an opinion … a solution … an answer … for what I believe should be, and can be, done.

 

And that being said I am troubled.

 

 

I am not sure I have an answer.

 

 

I have a lover’s quarrel with the country today. And I don’t believe I am alone in this.

 

 

All americans are part of the American story, with all its greatness … and its flaws, and I feel responsible in some way … just as I sometimes feel helpless.

 

 

I do wonder what Tocqueville would think of America today.

 

 

Democracy in America was written when he was 29. Tocqueville’s work is amazing. His observations on the American legal and political system are astonishing in their perceptiveness and sophistication. His love of our Republic and the sense of the fact that the democratic system we were setting in place would insure a sense of equality among its citizens make for an enlightening read … even today.

 

 

But I wonder what he would think with all the recent studies reporting that the United States is now one of the most unequal of societies within Western nations.

 

 

And that troubles me.

 

 

I do know this.

 

 

It is useless for our elected political leaders to say they are doing their best.

 

 

They have to do what is necessary.

 

And it troubles me that they haven’t.

 

 

I love this country … flaws and all. And, once again, I don’t believe I am alone in this.

 

 

I believe the average person, while hating what is happening absolutely does not hate America … and while worrying … wants it to be right.

 

 

We may obsess about certain things & issues and certainly judge them as bad or flawed.

 

 

But the reality is they simply are what they are … aspects of what makes America … well … America.

 

 

And it has always been that way.

 

 

Yeah … America’s flaws are subjective and based on interpretations, perspectives and focus but mostly by frame of reference.

 

mature 69 percent

Maturity & Sense of Entitlement

 

 

Here is where I am probably going to get in trouble.

 

 

Because of two things I am going to say.

 

Maturity.

 

I am not sure America is dealing with the issues with the same sense of maturity a country who has maybe dealt with 100’s of years of turmoil.

 

Next.

 

Sense of Entitlement. I mean too often the discussions come down to “what we had” mentality versus a “what we need” mentality. There is an aspect of ‘entitlement’ which skews a rational perspective on what to do and where to go from here.

 

 

Because regardless of how philosophical you get about this situation … most people know something should be done … and CAN be done.

 

 

But (big but).

 

Every time I get into this discussion it gets mired down in a “me” versus “we” discussion.

 

 

I call it “kitchen table economics.” And the kitchen table, one could argue, is skewed by the reality of the individual economics but I would argue it is skewed by ‘entitlement economics.’

 

 

By that I mean people solely focused on what is best for their kitchen table … and not what would be best for America’s kitchen table.

 

Tocqueville said in the introduction to Democracy in America that “equality of conditions” was what set the United States apart from Europe. His vision of the United States was an open society where democratic principles of equality could flourish peacefully in harmony with mores.

 

 

Once again … I wonder what Alexis would think of America today.

 

 

A recent report from the Pew Charitable Trust’s Project on Economic Mobility confirms what previous studies showed: if you’re born into the underclass, you’re likely to die there … stuck in your situation. Similarly, if you’re born to highly-educated parents with a higher than average income and a nice house you are more likely to be that way and your grandchildren probably won’t have to sweat the details.

 

 

American income inequality is becoming positively mind numbing with some of the richest US states having the largest populations of poor people.

 

In California, 22% live in poverty.

 

 

In Florida, it’s 20%.

 

 

The Pew study also shows that two thirds of all Americans think social inequality is more damaging to the nation than racism.

 

 

According to the Pew Research Centre, two thirds of Americans feel there is a strong conflict between the rich and the poor.

 

 

At least five recent studies prove that Americans now have less economic and social mobility than those in other English-speaking and western European countries.

 

 

But this where we get bogged down in the kitchen table discussion.

 

 

America middle class is focused on ‘what we had’ as the measurement. As well as they discuss things without thinking And we won’t get out of the situation if we remain stuck in that mentality.

And this is a tough one to get unstuck from <I admit that>.

 

 

The Era of Indulgence

 

 

Mainly because it is a struggle of transitioning between two eras. The Futures Company (Yankelovich) suggested in their Darwinian Gale report that we are shifting from an Era of Indulgence to an Era of Consequences.

 

 

I would suggest people are not transitioning. They are stuck in Indulgence (figuratively not literally). At every kitchen table people are assessing based on the Era of Indulgence and seeking to make ends meet based on that criteria.

 

Basically it is a “I worked hard for what I had <the indulgences> and I deserve it.”

 

 

Well.

 

No.

 

 

It was an Era of Indulgence. Middle class America was permitted to indulge as it had never been able to indulge ever before. And middle class America was bigger size wise than ever before.

 

 

More people tasted indulgence … and it tasted good.

 

 

Uh oh.

 

 

An era of consequences. America got fat. We need to go on a diet. Yeah. Talk about that at the kitchen table.

 

It sucks.

 

 

Diets have consequences. And, yeah, it sucks … but America’s kitchen table will benefit. Your own table will lose ‘indulgences’ <translation: some things you ‘had’ and maybe thought you earned>.

 

 

Look.

 

 

There are too many “reasons why” we are where we are … but that’s not the point … America’s strength has always been “repairing our own faults.”

 

 

And our elected officials won’t, and probably cannot, get us out of this.

 

(despite the fact I wish they would all remember this)

 

 

“This representative assembly should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large.  It should think, feel, reason, and act like them.”

John Adams

 

 

If John were here today he would be admonishing the elected representative assembly … they are not a miniature exact portrait of the people at large.

 

 

But lets not bitch & moan over that fact … its wasted energy <for now>.

 

 

So.

 

 

The truth is <it is kind of the obvious solution>, average people are the only ones who can lead our country out of the quagmire of special interests and party partisanship that is paralyzing it.

 

 

That’s because the average person brings a special quality that too many politicians do not have … a pragmatic desire to solve the problems, regardless of ideology, partisanship or career self-interest.

 

 

Most average people are far more interested in finding workable solutions than in adhering to a particular political ideology.

 

 

The average person almost always  demonstrates a willingness to mix and match elements from differing political approaches – market-based, government-based, “conservative” or “liberal” – as long as the result is a solution that will work .

 

 

The average person does not ask “does this meet my political beliefs?’

 

 

The average person says  “will this work?

 

 

But to make THIS work … to have America repair its faults … “the average person” needs to move away from kitchen table economics to America kitchen table economics mentality.

 

 

First step in getting America back on track?

 

 

Here is a thought from a very very smart man …

 

 

On july 4th 1992 former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, at the age of 83, said this in a speech:

 

 

We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust. We must dissent from the poverty of vision and the absence of moral leadership. We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.

 

 

 

What a thought … Dissent from the indifference.

 

 

The average person is sure bitching a lot. And pointing fingers at elected officials.

 

And it’s not getting us anywhere.

 

And, frankly, if we think it will get us somewhere than shame on us.

 

Repairing our faults begins at your own kitchen table.

 

We are no longer in an Era of Indulgence.

 

We are in an Era of Consequences.

 

Maybe if we all thought a little ‘smaller.’

 

Our retirement plans became smaller.

 

Our houses became smaller.

 

Our desires for “more” became smaller.

 

Maybe it would make it easier for America to reach some smaller goals.

 

And we could fix some big faults.

 

And do big things.

 

And we need to exhibit some bigger picture maturity. Let me explain using someone else’s words. I read this written by author Olen Steinhauer in one of his books:

 

 

“Americans are distinctive in the developed world. Your people still believe in Utopia. Maybe it’s because of your founding myth – the search for the perfect home. In the 21st century Americans still think it is possible to have a society in which a level of civility is constant where  a perfect balance of control and freedom can be maintained. It’s quaint. Try a few hundred years of war and civil strife on your own land and see how much of your faith remains.

Recent failures have shown us the flaws in our utopian dreams and it is a terrible thing to face.

Traumatic when it happens. America typically lashes out when it happens. It snaps. There is an irrational side to it. Something wild. No one likes to be shown that their core beliefs are wrong particularly when those illusions fuel their happy dreams. So when America’s dreams have been bruised the nation comes out like an express train. God help anyone standing in it’s path.”

 

 

 

We are in a traumatic time.

 

And, in a way, our american dreams have been bruised.

 

And I am interested in including this thought because while we may all be staring at our bank statements and thinking that this is about our wallets … it is more about what resides in our hearts & souls. It has become personal.

 

 

And that makes ‘repairing our flaws’ even more difficult. It will take some maturity and less “lashing out.” And maybe remember that it IS possible to have a society in which a level of civility can resolve the issues AND maintain what Olen called ‘our Utopian belief.”

 

 

You know something? I don’t mind that he suggests America has a utopian belief.

 

In fact … I kind of like it. It makes us distinctive in the developed world

 

And, frankly, we have to be what we are … and what got us to where we are today as a successful country.

 

 

Regardless.

It is time to repair our faults.

separate but one

July 28th, 2010

 

“… be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”

=

Booker Washington

 

Ok.

 

I am going to take this awesome quote and talk about two things: business and personal.

 

First.

Business.

 

Whenever anyone asks me about “integration” or autonomy within an organization this is the quote I use.

 

Look.

As a business leaders we incessantly talk of “staying on strategy” or “meeting objectives”.

 

Why?

Because there is so much everyday other shit going on you worry about losing control.

Simplistically, you have one of two choices.

 

Leverage off of something <strategy> or aim for something <objective>.

 

That’s it.

That’s your choices.

 

Let’s call it vectoring for success. Okay. Let’s not.

 

And you have to choose because today everyone is “integrating.” What I mean is everybody is seeking to implement a shitload of tactics in a shitload of different vehicles <and methods> and it can all go to shit really really fast.

In addition … any organization of any size and process/output bandwidth will have some conflict. It is a natural aspect when you put a bunch of different people together <let’s assume you cannot clone for this discussion>.

 

Ok.

That said.

So you are on your ‘vector.’

 

You have one of two choices <in general>.

 

Create chemistry through conflict management <think dictator insuring all the fingers stay on one hand or they get chopped off if they start flipping you off>.

Call it a ‘benevolent dictatorship’ or just call it ‘having an egotistical maniacal leader’ … whatever you want. They don’t just set the course … they dictate, demand and  set up guidelines that destroy any real autonomy.

Now.

This hand can punch a bunch of people along the way but just as a boxer ages over time your career as a conflict hand organization will wear out in a relatively short time.

 

And then there is naturally grown organizational chemistry.

These are ‘hands’ that face conflict with chemistry.

This an organization that creates a culture that thrives on that vector. <whenever I type that word I want to ask “what’s your vector? Victor” … anyway …>.

This vector is a little scary because it contains that evil word “decentralization.”

 

Uh oh.

Great organizational chemistry almost always has a thread of some autonomy. But great organizational chemistry embodies the quote also. Autonomy aligned in one fist, handshake, salute or wave.

 

So.

enlightened conflict thinkChoose your path.

But if you like the quote you know which way to go now.

 

Second.

Personal.

 

Whenever someone asks me about what makes a great relationship this is the quote I use.

 

I believe being one while remaining two is the greatest thing that can ever happen in any relationship.

‘To be one, yet remain two’ is the way I believe I have heard it said before. But Booker says it better.

 

I would imagine this means a balance between independence and dependence.

 

Uhm.

Yes.

 

Dependence.

Being dependent isn’t a bad thing on occasion. In individual moments we all need someone.

If we don’t … well… I would argue you aren’t human.

 

But having some independence keeps the partnership healthy and growing. And actually keeps the “ones” stronger as ‘ones’ so when they become ‘two’ they actually have strength far beyond the numbers <I am fairly sure Pythagoras proved this in his third marriage>.

 

I imagine that last thought leads me to my real point.

Any combination of independence and dependence is powerful. People like vision and hope and dreams. And they, frankly, will gladly be dependent upon another person who can clearly paint a picture in which they could see themselves someday standing in. ideas conflict and falure

 

But this ‘dependence’ comes with a responsibility. The responsibility to encourage some autonomy, and independence, to enhance individual growth.

 

 

Therein lies a Life <and business> truth.

Individual growth does not guarantee happiness. It can enhance but not guarantee. However. Combine individual growth with organizational <or some derivative of ‘companions on the path’> happiness and … well … that combination creates sch a high level of personal satisfaction it is difficult to attain without the independence/dependence relationship.

capitalism, crisis and cycles

July 22nd, 2010

So. I rarely simply cut & paste an existing article but then I came across this interview. I believe all of us think about the current economic situation and is it a recession or a depression and why it happened and what will happen. This interview with Richard Foster is probably one of the most concise down-to-earth every day language discussions on the topic I have ever seen.

In addition. The concept of creative destruction (which is not about advertising) is one I have always been interested in. Simply it suggests that creative minds in a marketplace, think entrepreneurs & innovators, will ultimately destroy the boundaries of the existing marketplace and in the wake of the destruction a new system will be created. And the cycle will resume. Of course, anyone who follows my thinking know I like cyclical behavioral patterns so of course I liked the interview. Below is a nice image I found from an innovations company which simply shows creative destruction concept.

There are a couple of real gems in here if you fight your way through equities and hedge funds.

 

The essence of capitalism is capitalizing. Such a simple statement that explains the essence of not only our economy but our ethos as a nation. That means at our core we are “growers.” We are happiest when we see opportunities or innovations or new things and capitalize on them.  Literally and figuratively this is a huge thought.

 

– Creation will happen again and will again leave behind the big guys trying to rely solely on operations. For those of us in the world who talk about brands (and really mean companies) and repositioning and revitalizing this thought is very important. As the marketplace cycles we so often seek to freshen stale imagery when the reality is we should be seeking to refresh some creativity WITHIN the company  (that could be attitude, innovation or a variety of things) so that their world becomes bigger than ‘relying solely on operations.” Another huge thought.

 

Anyway.

It’s interesting reading.

Enjoy.

 

A coauthor of Creative Destruction explains how the business world—and the capitalist system—will change in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Richard Foster, a McKinsey director from 1982 to 2004, is a coauthor of Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market—and How to Successfully Transform Them. In that book, he and Sarah Kaplan argue that to endure, companies must embrace what economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction” and change at the pace and scale of the capital markets, without losing control over current operations. In a recent interview with the Quarterly, Foster offered his view of how the current financial crisis might change the business world and the capitalist system.

 

The Quarterly: How does your vision of creative destruction apply to today’s situation?

 

Richard Foster: Let’s start by looking back. In the 1970s, we had the “Nifty 50”—invulnerable companies that couldn’t possibly lose, and of course they all did. It will be the same today; there will be surprising losers, and survival will come down to simple things, like cash and margins. If you’re a low-margin company without a lot of cash or perhaps with too much leverage, you will not make it. Someone will figure out how to do better.

In the financial-services sector, the upheaval will create a new generation of leaders. Fifty years ago, we didn’t have 8,000 hedge fund managers. Then somebody said, “We can go short as well as long; we have much better information than people did in the 1930s, and the information comes to us instantaneously rather than days after the event. We can make a lot of money modeling and leveraging that information.” So the hedge funds were born. How many of those guys had been successful at mutual-fund management? I don’t think any. They might have been commodity traders, but few were mutual-fund managers. Today, other kinds of people with no experience or expertise will challenge incumbents from outside the industry, and there will be a lot of them. Most of the challengers will fail, but a few will succeed, and they’ll become the heroes of the next generation. If you had to bet on anything, that’s it because that’s what has happened in the past.

 

The Quarterly: Could you elaborate on this life cycle?

 

Richard Foster: In the book, Sarah Kaplan and I show that over the long term, the market performs better than companies do. There can be periods—5, 7, 10, even 15 years—when that isn’t the case, but corporate performance always reverts to a lower level than the market because the economy is changing at a faster pace and on a larger scale than any individual company so far has been able to do without losing control. That’s the challenge: to create, operate, and trade—to divest old businesses and acquire or build new businesses—at the pace and scale of the market without losing control.

The balance among creating, trading, and excelling operationally changes over time. When the economy is in a growth spurt, there’s more creating. Few companies are trading very much and operations are fine. In those circumstances, the newer companies in the economy tend to outperform the index, and the older companies that are only focused on operations underperform the market.

As the market collapses, the weaker upstarts get squeezed out. The survivors are the cash-rich “operators,” which perform at levels closer to the averages, which themselves are lower. Companies that operate well shine in down times, as they are now. Every investor on the planet is looking for companies that have cash left. The turmoil will clear away the weaker companies—the companies that have taken too much risk. This doesn’t mean they’re bad companies; it’s just that they’ve taken on too much risk given their balance sheet resources.

 

The Quarterly: What happens then?

 

Richard Foster: New, young companies that have conserved cash and have solid and often expanding margins surge ahead. When this happened in the ’70s, companies such as The Limited, The Gap, Home Depot, and John Malone’s TeleCommunications Inc. sprung from the burned forest. After the crash of 1987, Microsoft, Oracle, and Amgen took off. Then in the ’90s, we had the Internet companies. Creation will happen again and will again leave behind the big guys trying to rely solely on operations.

 

The Quarterly: To what extent is today’s financial crisis different from earlier ones?

 

Richard Foster: The granddaddy of cycles in this economy is the equity premium, which is the difference between the longer-term total returns to shareholders and the supposedly risk-free debt rate. It is the premium the equity investor gets for taking the equity risk. Looking back, we can see seven great cycles. During the boom times, when the equity premium goes way too high, everybody hocks everything to get in on the game, and this creates the conditions for a crash. When the crash occurs, the politicians come in and say it was this or that person’s fault. Then they create regulatory institutions, and virtually every one of those institutions—starting with the Federal Reserve, in 1913, as a result of the crash of 1907—has been quite productive for the nation in the longer term. This includes the formation of the Securities and Exchange Commission, in 1934; the Investment Company Act, in 1940; the beginning of the end of fixed commission rates in 1970; and the Sarbanes–Oxley Act, in the early 2000s.

 

The Quarterly: What happens in the aftermath of the new regulations?

 

Richard Foster: What do self-respecting entrepreneurs do when subjected to new regulations? They learn the regulations backward and forward and then vow never to start another business that falls within the scope of those regulations. And so off the entrepreneur goes to find a new way. That’s one reason credit default swaps eventually took the form they did—the other options were regulated.

The new entrepreneur often seeks ways to innovate outside the scope of the newly established regulations. In the beginning, all that works out fine. We have innovations, we love the people who created them, they’re great heroes, the returns are strong, everybody says, “I’m going to be one of those guys.” Eventually, all the truly good guys who are going to get into that business have done so. The opportunity starts drawing less savory figures—charlatans who overmarket, cut corners, establish usurious contracts, and do other clever things to generate profit for themselves. They end up bringing the system down. Then guess what happens? At the end of that period, after the equity premium has soared and collapsed again, the government steps in and regulates the systems, this time focusing on the last wave of abuse. And then we start over.

We were getting somewhat better at handling these cycles until 2000, but since then we’ve gotten worse. The collapse of 2008 isn’t like the crash of 1929, because we have the institutions that were created in the last century, and they are very effective. Understanding the differences between the ’30s and today is at least as important as understanding the similarities.

 

The Quarterly: Capitalism has just taken a beating. What will the future look like?

 

Richard Foster: The essence of capitalism is capitalizing—bringing forward the future value of cash to the present so that society can grow more quickly by taking risks. It goes back to the Dutchmen in the 16th century, sitting at their coffeehouses in Amsterdam and Leiden, loaning each other money for a guaranteed return. Someone said, “I’ll give you a little higher return if you give me a piece of the action”—and equity was invented. That had the effect of bringing forward, into real cash today, the net present value of future earnings. That levered society and allowed it to grow at a much higher rate than it would otherwise have. Equity was a very clever invention, and we are not going to give it up. This is the way people are. This is the way commerce works and will continue to work unless capitalism ends. And that won’t happen, regardless of what you read in the press.

Enlightened Conflict