Archive for July, 2012

Student Loan Debt Relief

Posted: July 27, 2012 in Philosophy

Okay, I think that student loans are not discharged in bankruptcy because the only collateral offered is future earnings.  There is no house, no boat or car that can be repossessed.  People offer themselves as collateral.   It is a bad deal, but the banks won’t let go if they think you will declare bankruptcy, discharge your debts and then get a good paying job.  I imagine they got fed up with a few students taking loans, declaring bankruptcy at age 30, and then making 6 figures a few years later.

Banks should work with local communities and get these lawyers and other graduates into the public service arena, where they can practice their craft, earn experience, and serve the community and resource-poor charitable nonprofit organizations locally.  The banks could get a write off some of which could be shared with the debtor.  The local advocacy groups could get legal and other professional level services.  The poor would get representation and better opportunity.  And the debt could be discharged on an hourly basis at a slightly discounted rate to what the person’s training would be earning otherwise.


As I grow older, it occurs to me that I have been a drain on the world. I have consumed its resources. The food I have eaten might have been available to others who hunger had I not be around to consume them. The way I spent the money I had might have gone to some other purpose or possibly not have been needed at all because I did not need to be a consumer of things. I never worried about that before, but now in my waning years, I think about it. Was I a Sink or a Source.

A Sink is something that consumes. A Source is something that creates. At least that is the way I mean to use these words. By living, we are all sinks of a sort. The question is whether or not we are any sort of source. More specifically, what is our net value; Sink or Source.

As I grow older, I think more about this. I think in the past, I was mainly a sink. If that is how I am to be in the future, it might be better that I not be at all. I think I need, even as my years move toward that ultimate end, I think I need to be more of a source. I need to be more conscious of my net worth. I don’t mean my net worth in money, but my net worth to the world in which I live.

I guess I should not be surprised that aspiring to positive net worth, to being a better source than sink is energizing, inspiring. There is a lot of work to be done.


Heaven or Hell?

I was just beginning to read the book, “Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril” and an interesting parallel occurred to me. The human being, as best we know, is the only species that can contemplate its own death. We despair when events like Columbine and now Aurora are presented in every media outlet. As I grow older and notice that there are many people my age and younger are dieing every day, I think about my own demise and wonder about the legacy I will leave behind. It causes me to invest a bit more time and attention to my grandson. It also activates me in my volunteer work with community organizing and study about the impact humans are having on the planet.

In reading Moral Ground essays which outline the dire indications of a planet in peril, it occurred to me that contemplating death is more than personal. Many minds are now contemplating the extinction of not just their own persons, but the extinction of the human race as we head toward a cataclysmic crash of the planets systems. The dinosaurs did not see their extinction coming, or so it seems. But while we think of ourselves as the exception to almost everything on the planet, we have been blessed or cursed with the ability to imagine a future. And that future, as a logical extension of what is happening today, is one of extinction– not just of individual species of which we take little notice, but of our own human species.

This lead to an idea or thought experiment. Suppose for a moment that on planet earth, we happen to be living in the afterlife of some other existence. That is, we were living someplace else and then, from where ever that was, we died and now, our spirits were sent here on planet earth for our after life. The question comes up– are we living in Heaven or Hell?


The most important value shared by all of mankind is GROWTH.

Consider that as humans, we are dependent on growing up.  Growth is considered to be a positive, even essential aspect of life.  We look around and we see growth positively valued everywhere we look.  We want our gardens to grow.  We want our children to grow up.  We want to grow our own abilities, to learn, to be able to be more proficient, more successful.  Growth is one of the values we all share in common.  It is part of the environment in which we live, so much so, the values associated with growth go unnoticed, unobserved.

Growth is good!  Who does not want their net worth to grow?  We all look forward to the day that our financial obligations are smaller than all the assets in property and money that we claim ownership of.  We abhor the idea of negative financial growth lest we find we are bankrupt.  To increase the opportunity to grow financially while limiting the risks we have to endure, we form associations with others, limited partnerships, corporations.  We invest assets in these corporations expecting a return, not only in dividends from the profit of the company, but also, we hope, in the increasing, growing value of the company and hence our stock investment.  We are counting on economic values to grow.  Our expectations of gain as well as the expectations of gain of those managing the companies imply there will be growth; growth in profits, growth in asset value.  The whole of our economy, in our nation, in other nations, in the world as a whole, are dependent on growth.  Hence, growth in consumers, growth in population is desired.  It leads to additional needs for food, housing, clothing, entertainment, information, health care, transportation, etc., etc., etc.

In the United States, the economic need for constant, continual financial growth is running out of places to grow.  Hence, we see an effort to devalue governmental services in favor of commercial enterprises.  Private prisons help the financial markets grow.  Private schools allow for profit, for financial growth in a previously non-profit segment of society.  Parks, roads, utilities, transportation, police, fire station services, health care, military services, to name a few– all of these are game for creating new growth for the financial sectors of society.  And since growth is good, even when prompted by greed, a pernicious form of growth, why not make all activities of life “grow-able.”

There is a problem with the supposedly good value of growth.  It is not sustainable?  It is a simple fact that the resources of this planet though enormous, are limited.  Growth forever is not sustainable.  The problem is the short term existence of any single individual to mostly less than a hundred years.  Growth is probably sustainable during that brief horizon today, probably during the next few generations, but not indefinitely.  The problem with growth is how culturally embedded and revered growth is, how acceptable as a fundamental principle of goodness it is for most people.  Yes, some people see the problem of growth in limited areas, but not generally as a whole.

Unfortunately I don’t have a solution except to call attention to what seems to be generally invisible.  We live in a “growth is good” milieu much as a fish lives in water, unaware of the universe that surrounds it– it just is.  To be able to advocate for a sustainable world, we first must come to terms with the fact that the growth value must be recognized and ways to sustain the world explored before we pass some tipping point.  WE must learn in what ways growth is positive and in what ways it exhausts the resources of our planet.  We must come to terms with externalities of specific acts of growth as well as its benefits. If we don’t come to terms with this problem of the growth value, mother nature will take care of it for us or our progeny or our lack of progeny.

See also The Earth has a Cancer


Slavery, Women’s Rights, and Employment Contracts

     Slavery represented a contract of sorts. The slave owner provided for food, shelter, and clothing for his slaves and in turn, they worked for him. The social structure treated this relationship between the owner and the slave as a form of a contract. The slave was a form of property whose work product belonged not to the slave, but to the owner who invested his capital in the slave, either by the purchase of an able bodied worker or the nurturing of a new born slave until he or she could provide productive value to the owner. Society recognized this form of contract which prevented the slave from being able to seek either a termination or fulfillment of the contract so as to gain the ability to be the owner of his or her own productive labor. The contract was one-sided in this respect.

     Today, it is almost universally true that slavery violates the laws and traditions of the various cultures and societies throughout the world with few exceptions. So much has this been outlawed that one who might seek to sell themselves into slavery for any of a number of reasons may not do so, even as a limited indenture contract. Of course, there is still illegal slavery in the form of human trafficking. There is also a form of slavery in the fee for sex industry.

     In a similar way, at least most of written history, marriage represented a similar kind of contract. A woman was considered property, her labor owned by the contract of marriage. While today, in many Western cultures, secular law recognizes a woman’s right to her own person, her own rights to make decisions independently from her husband. Still, a number of religious institutions advocate for the subjugation of a woman to her husband. In other parts of the world, the contractual rights of a husband to the “ownership” of the wife or wives still reigns. Honor culture forms a kind of contract in some societies so effectively as to give men life and death rights over wives as well as female children. For the world, there is still some progress to be made in a woman’s right to be an agent in all aspects of their life affairs, to be able to make decisions independently of, even in contradiction to. the will of their spouses.

     As in the case of slavery, the world has made and continues to make progress in eliminating this concept that one person can own any aspect of another person. In Western society, recognition of property rights allows people to claim ownership of themselves and to be considered their own agent with regard to the sale and trade of their property or work effort. Yet, there is still a frontier of one person owning another person’s work that society has not addressed. The problematic nature of this ownership issue is complicated by the treatment of corporations as though there were a person with regard to their ability to own living peoples work products. This is imbedded in the nature of the actual and implied employment contracts.

     What we have is an instance where a “thing” (organized capital, usually in the form of a corporation) can own the “work product” of a person visa via an employment contract that both enter into supposedly freely. However, the contract is one sided. A worker rarely owns the results of their work, that is share in both the risks and rewards of the enterprise in which they are employed. The risks they encounter involve the obligation to obey instructions, directions which take the form of the same kinds of commands given to a slave. They must endure the treatment of “superiors” or be insubordinate. Their risk is the loss of employment, loss of wages, of the ability to survive. In many cases, they are not “hired” to think, but to do as their “master” demands.

     Inventions (or any creative products, are fundamentally the creation of human ingenuity but the ownership of the invention by a person working under an actual or implied work contract belongs to the “thing” that paid the person. It goes so far as to imply that if a person makes an invention at home, in their garage, off of the hours they are employed to work, that too can be claimed by the company. The ownership belongs to the owner of the capital invested in the company, not in the work that was invested by the worker. The worker is sold short, but the culture surrounding employment contracts offers few alternatives.

     This modern form of “slave labor” is well rooted in tradition and culture and is not even recognized by people who see their productive capacity as something to sell in the form of a “job.” Work is devalued while those capable of accumulating and investing capital are rewarded with the immediate and ongoing profit from the work paid for only once. Capital, a thing, becomes the slave holder taking care of the worker in return for the work product in perpetuity, accepted as a kind of interest on the capital investment.

     An alternative to this situation is a reformulation of the corporation. First, it must become its rightful non-person. The corporation must become a cooperative association of people who are not external stock holders, but whose capital is both the financial support of the people who work in the corporation as well as the work products of the people who work in the corporation. The workers will be the ones who take the risks of their capital and work as well as the rewards of the same. The only role of external capital in the corporation should be that of loans made to individual workers in the corporation, not even to the corporation as an entity. These worker-owners of their own productive structure take the risk of its success as well as benefit from the rewards of its success. Using this model and expanding it so that these multiples of cooperative formulated corporations can work together stands as the greatest hope of addressing this third form of slavery, the employment contract between a “corporation as person” and a living person for a wage. Instead, people join together to protect their own creative capacity and its rewards.