Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category


Vestiges of Slavery

If you define slavery as the condition in which a person can be bought and sold by others and that corporations are persons according to USA law, then slavery in the US is alive and well.  This idea was introduced to me in the book “We The People” by Buck and Villines.

A traditional for-profit corporation is owned by its stockholders.  These stockholders, through their agents, the board of directors of the corporation, are the declared owners of the corporation.  The CEO may have lots of influence, may even be one of or a major stockholder, but he does not own the corporation in his role as CEO, only as he or she might own stock, capital rights, in the corporation.  The board does not own the corporation even though some or all of them own stock.  They are owners only in the proportion of capital, stock, they own.  The board is elected by the capital investors at large to act in their interests, usually limited to their financial interests, in growing the capital value of their stock and in the dividends that might accrue from profits proportional to their capital interest in the corporation.

Thus, in this regard, the stockholders are the true owners and collectively have the right to direct (command) and possibly sell the corporation — which in the US at least is declared to have the property of personhood.  This is the classic definition of slavery.  Of course, we don’t have empathy for the corporation as a person per se. Stock holders might, but usually don’t have empathy with those that define the corporation through their creative capacity or their day to day labor.

Given this strange fact of the existence of slavery of a corporation because a corporation by law has the characteristic of personhood and entitled to all the rights of such personhood, it seems to shed questions as to this apparent disconnect with reality.  I would suggest that what is wrong here is the idea that a corporation has in fact, in reality, the property of personhood.

Interesting to think about?  Maybe it can become the basis for some change in the personhood of corporations?


What about Fossil Fuel?

Think about it.

There is considerable risk to the consumption of fossil fuels since it has been well established that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, a major threat to civilization on Earth. The fossil fuels in the ground that have not been extracted represent a asset on the books of major fossil fuel corporations. Even in a declining demand in the United States, there is a rush via fracking and other extraction methods to get as much as is possible right now. This poses a problem. What do you do with it?

The current effort is to send these fossil fuels over seas to support growing economies there. There is also considerable push back from citizens because of the real likely outcome that burning all these reserves can contribute to increased CO2 and exacerbate the climate problems we face.

One way to put a cap on the speed of this effort and reduce the climate impact is to prohibit the export of fossil fuels from the United States. If there were such a prohibition, then only the fossil fuels needed to meet demand in the United States would be extracted because there is no good way to store the vast amounts current efforts portend. This would have the additional benefit of extending into the indefinite future the benefits of fossil fuels which are used for purposes other than burning in generators and automobiles. If in addition, there was a growth in the use of alternative ways to generate electricity with wind and solar the US demand for fossil fuels would continue to decrease.

There are advantages to the United States. First, we could become totally independent of foreign sources. Second, it would extend the potential long term value of this source of primary wealth. It also postpones the impact of excessive CO2 in the world climate system.

So, I say: Prohibit the exportation of fossil fuels from the United States.


The Case Against GMO

Why are the corporations so against GMO labeling?

The answer to this question is subtle. It begins with why GMO crops are created in the first place. As it turns out to nobody’s surprise it is economic, not for the benefit of the consumer. If farm products can be produced that lower the cost of production by modifying the nature of the produce itself, in theory and practice it ought to be done. That is the basis of GMO.

For an example, consider Monsanto’s Round Up ready GMO crops. Using these mono-culture GMO seeds a farmer can apply the Round Up herbicide to reduce the weeds and as a result increase the yield per acre. The GMO crops have been engineered so that they are not killed by the herbicide while the weeds are. What is worth pointing out is that this GMO is designed to make money for Monsanto and the farmer. However, the GMO is not made in a way that the consumer gains any direct benefit.

This economic agenda does not seem to include making the product more healthy for the population as a whole. It does not make the nutritional value greater. In fact, one has to question whether the food produced through the application of toxic chemicals is in fact safe. There are historical experiences that should inform us, like the use of DDT.

So, if the only value is economic, mega-corporations naturally oppose any calling attention to the GMO process. Labeling would certainly do that. So, the corporations go all out to oppose labeling because, if we all knew where GMO was being employed for which there was no health benefit and no money savings benefit for the consumer, we might become more aware and less inclined to use GMO products. GMO benefits the corporations, but not the consumers.

Every technology ever developed had unintended consequences, some good, many bad.  For example, in the case of Roundup Ready Crops, we see a number of instances.  Increased resistance of weeds to Round Up which will require a more toxic application.  We also see GMO crops “infecting” non GMO crops indicating we are not in control of the outcomes of GMO.  It has resulted in suing farmers who through no fault of theirs, find GMO products in their fields with the effect of driving some non-GMO producers out of business and us out of choice in the market.  Labeling is an honest way to help us track what is going on and give us choices in our food purchasing.


Capitalism versus Biosphereism

The -ism of Capitalism is best described in the following definition of the meaning of the suffix -ism.

A : doctrine: theory: religion <Buddhism>

B: adherence to a system or a class of principles <stoicism>

Hence, Capitalism is best understood as a doctrine/theory/religion or adherence to the same with regard to financial “capital”. We could summarize this by understanding capitalism as a value system, one that places ultimate value on capital. By confusing this value system with the necessity of markets in which goods and services are exchanged, the value of a sustainable biosphere in which all living systems are nurtured is lost.

The remedy to the story that Capitalism has embraced and has been sold and bought by society writ large is a new story, a new name. We need a clear and compelling story about Biosphereism, a doctrine/theory/religion that expresses the values of a sustainable world for all living systems. We need a new class of principles and a new assumption that we will adhere to.


Jobs and Work

 

What do you do? Where do you work? What’s your job? How do you earn a living? These are some of the ways we ask each other about our livelihoods. We tend to overlook the significant difference between a “job” and “work”.

 

The difference between a job and work by a loose analogy is the difference between duty and passion. A job is something you have in order to do other things that you like to do. You don’t have to like what you do on a job, you just have to perform in order to be paid, preferably fairly with money which you can use to buy the stuff you want to have and live a life, outside of the job, that you prefer to live. Typically, when you have a job, you celebrate TGIF on Fridays and Groan when the alarm goes off on Monday.

 

In contrast, having work you love to do is stimulating, affirming, pleasurable, rewarding with or without a fair compensation. Typically, with work you love, Monday mornings are energizing and having to quit work on a Friday is hard to do. Work gives us self-value. Work has a sense of contribution to the world, to be a worthwhile way to spend your time. Others need not benefit from our work, but we are rewarded when our work is appreciated and adds value to the lives of others.

 

Too many people think they will be satisfied to have a job that pays them enough, no, more than enough to live life outside of the job. Some people realize that satisfaction with life comes from having the right kind of work to do as opposed to having stuff or lots of money. Sadly, some people only discover this after they retire and discover that work that they freely chose to do is more rewarding and life affirming than the job or jobs they had for the past 40 years.

 

If you are one of those lucky ones that has work to do that you love to do with an added benefit that it supplies your needs in life, rejoice. If not, reconsider how you spend your time chasing money in a life-sucking job in order to have the stuff and a life once the job hours are over.


How can we find a balance between the government collection of all kinds of data on every person that seems to violate our sense of privacy and a perceived need to collect data for use to reduce the threat of terrorism?  I have an idea of how this could be more acceptable.

The perceived threat for the average Joe is that innocent coincident of data about us can be misinterpreted to point to illegal activity and used in court or a plea bargain to establish guilt for something for which we are not guilty.  Furthermore, because of a need for secrecy, we might be denied access to the full set of data or how it was obtained in order to defend ourselves.  Yet, it is reasonable that the ability to comb through data from many sources can be useful in discovering planning for illegal activities, even to prevent terrorist actions that could harm many people.

The fact is, we have demonstrated over and over that we do not have a problem with collection and mining of data about ourselves.  Most people willingly provide all sorts of data and information about themselves that corporate interests use to market to us.  We are happy enough to get a discount by using a store credit card or the convenience in general of using credit and debit cards.  On line commercial transactions would be nearly impossible without them.  Although we might complain about pop-up adds or Amazon’s analysis of our purchasing habits, for example, we still take advantage of modern technology.  So how could we strike a balance.

I would propose that restrictions on how collected data might be used would go a long way to alleviating our concerns about government being in the data collection business.  The restriction I would propose is to prohibit retrospective data to be presented in a court of law.  If the government wants to collect and use data to prosecute a “innocent until proven guilty” person, they would need to go to a judge or grand jury and get a warrant to prospectively collect court admissible data on  a justifiable basis.  They might use retrospectively collected data to get the warrant, but that retrospective data could not be used in prosecuting a case, only data collected after a warrant was issued.

What this would mean is that you and I need not be concerned about the widespread collection of data in that it could not be used by the government to retrospectively manipulate the information to determine our guilt.  They might use it in an interrogation, but could not use it as evidence in court.  They could not mine collected data to incriminate a person they had in custody as proof of guilt, only data that was collected specifically after an individual, not all of us, was suspected and for which a warrant was granted.

Lets assume for a moment that suspicion develops about one or more people.  Being able to go back and look at data that has been collected can be of great help in assessing a possible threat.  It is this “going back” that seems to me to be most dangerous.  That would mean that all historical data, data prior to a warrant, the data that led to going to a judge would not be admissible.  It would be useful in protecting us, but preserve our innocence until proven guilty.

What do you think?

Cecil


Social Justice, All About Advantages — Cecil Denney

What does it mean when one says they are an advocate for Social Justice? Surely they don’t mean social equality.

  • People are different.
  • Cultures are different.
  • Localities and their resources are different.
  • Opportunities for achievement are different.
  • Families are different. Etc.

The context in which social beings exist are therefore inherently different. In the historical and cultural systems of the United States, we like to quote such things as “All men are created equal” and in our flag pledge “… with liberty and justice for all.” Unfortunately, these foundational assertions fail to be incorporated into the fabric of our social systems and practices. The more disclaimed “greed is good” is more privately ingrained in us as individuals and our organizations. It seems that our personal well-being tends to trump other considerations. It is not that we are selfish, just that we are fundamentally human, looking out for number one. Total equality in all things does not appeal to anyone who enjoys the vitality of being alive.

Yet, we can not deny the impact of compassion. Confronted with the reality of pain and suffering, the mirror brain neurons experience the pain vicariously. If we see a child about to drown, most of us would jump in to save them at risk to our own safety. There is altruism to consider as well, a sincere interest in the well-being of others and willingness to share what material goods or advantage we possess so that others can be well too.

Contrary to some definitions, social justice is not really about equality or even liberty. Injustice is about advantage. It does not matter if the advantage is based on money, opportunity, intelligence, appearance, cordiality, race, ethnicity, sex, national origin, familial relationships, tribe, or in any other way that people can differentiate themselves from others. Injustice is about the misapplication of advantage or its misuse. Advantage can be written into laws, exist in cultural traditions or be prejudicial habits. Advantage is naturally sought by our competitive human nature, stemming from our historical competition for primary resources, for survival. Advantage is the basis for cultural class structures when consciously or unconsciously utilized for personal or tribal advantage.

So how does one seek social justice in the presence of a multitude of advantages unconsciously used. It begins with a recognition of ones own advantageous characteristics. As with most cultural wrongs in society, it is far easier to recognize injustice in others than in one’s self. (The beam in the other guys eye…) So, overcoming the detrimental side of advantage, whether individually or within a group of affiliated individuals, justice begins with self-awareness. Of course, that does not solve the problems of injustice, but it begins a process of recognition of injustice and being focused on one’s self or group, gives one person or groups of people the easiest place to begin to implement a more just society.

We can’t do away with advantages. We can decide how to ameliorate their impact. Equality is not the goal. Equal opportunity or more precisely balanced opportunity can create a more just social structure. In that structure, self-aware advantages are moderated by compassion, altruism and a desire for justice, a desire that one’s own advantages are not used to the dis-advantage of others. Justice dictates that advantage not be used to enhance ones own life while simultaneously operating to close off opportunities of those with fewer advantages. There is that obvious tendency to advocate that other people change as opposed to accept change in ourselves or our clan.

Sometimes social justice is couched in the cloak of “rights.” People have a right to… you name it. Some definitions equate human rights and social justice. Yet, Social justice is experienced in the context of giving just opportunity as opposed to getting ones rights of opportunity. We might say this or that is not right, but the beginning of social justice is in recognizing our participation in what is not right and sincerely seeking ways to respond accordingly. In the earliest written expressions of social justice in the Western world, the ten commandments, it is clear the emphasis is on our responsibilities, not our rights.

Social Justice is not the same as charity. Social Justice does not yield to quick fixes. It is larger than an individual, a committee, a church, a neighborhood. But, Social Justice can be practiced at each one of these levels to improve the social contract of living together fairly and with compassion for lack of advantage. Experiencing Social Justice comes first in stories, the story of real people and the struggles they experience in an unjust social context. It also comes in personally experienced relationships with the disadvantaged.

Being an advocate for Social Justice is complex and difficult. Yet, social justice is not something abstract, something out there, but something inside of us, reflecting the deep aspects of our spiritual self. We discover how to be a net asset to the world, not just another liability. All of us will have to think more deeply about our advantages and how we use them to dis-advantage others. How do we make unconscious choices, that are seemingly private choices within the social context where many are impacted, maybe not noticing the drowning disadvantaged right in front of us? How do we choose what to do as opposed to just talking about it? How do we organize ourselves to work collectively for a more just society? Where do we put our energy to be most effective?

Then, if we can address this complex topic of Social Justice, just maybe we can find others who also want to engage with us in this complex challenge.


This week, the National Rifle Association made an interesting proposal to protect school students by posting an armed security officer in each school building in the United States.  In theory, this should provide a deterrence to anyone who might contemplate another assault like the one in Newton, Connecticut.   Not only do I have doubts about the logic of this, but I seriously doubt that the NRA made a serious proposal.  It was more of a political proposal designed to deflect the discussion away from gun control.

So, lets put this suggestion to a test.  Lets assume this is a good idea for a moment.  The question is how it should be funded.  My suggestion is to fund it with taxes on guns and ammunition, sufficient to fund the approximately $80,000 per school such a proposal would cost to staff and administer.   We could also assign a special tax on those who manufacture and sell guns.  Note, I am not proposing that we disallow guns as guaranteed in the second amendment to the US Constitution.

Second Amendment: “A well regulated Milita, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Rather, I am suggesting a way for those who own guns to contribute in a meaningful way to gun safety for all citizens including those who choose not to exercise this “right” including children.

Now ammunition is a consumable, so it can insure a continued flow of revenue.  However, to tax it alone or depend on it alone to fund the security guards, it would need to be excessively large.  A gun is relatively permanent, so although a tax on the sale of a gun would help, it too would be too small a revenue stream that would need to be supplied over time.  Similarly, a special tax or license fee to sell guns would not generate sufficient revenue.  What is required is a special “personal property” tax on gun ownership that would be paid annually by all gun owners.  Surely, given the number of gun owners in the United States, this could be a modest tax sufficient with the others mentioned above to fund the revenue for school security officer programs.

So, given it is the NRA’s suggestion that all schools deserve to be protected from irrational gun owners/users, it is time for the NRA to step up to the funding of its proposal.  Perhaps the NRA itself would be willing to make the first contribution to the national campaign to raise the funds through a special tax on gun ownership.

 

Exceptionalism

Posted: August 31, 2012 in Economics, Morality, Philosophy, Politics

Attention has been drawn to the American sense of exceptionalism.  It has its roots in the very founding of the United States of America in the late 1700’s.  Of particular interest is the pedestal of extreme respect that is given to the founding fathers.  This sense of their unique and exceptional  contribution manifest itself in the way they are quoted to support divergent views of what is meant by various statements in the constitution of the US.

It is true that their creation of a nation based in law, respectful of science and independent from specific religious control was unique, a significant experiment in rule by and for the people.  We have, to date, tried to honor their intent to create a system where change takes place in an orderly process.  The process involves amendments to the imperfect original construction of the constitution thereby making it adaptive to future trends, aspirations, and knowledge.  In this sense, what they did was exceptional.

No other nation is likely to experience this same explosive development, certainly not in the same way.  One reason lies in the exceptional aspect of history, the discovery of a virgin land populated with natives ill suited to protect themselves against the diseases and tools of the “white” man.  They were unable to protect themselves, their social order, and the wealth of the nature that sustained them against overwhelming odds, pure greed and avarice.  Our founding fathers were complicit beneficiaries of their superior advantage and supposedly superior wisdom in “the ways of the world.”  In this regard, they were certainly not exceptional.

So, I see several problems in blindly accepting their exceptionalism.  First of all, they were risk takers who had abandoned their native lands to live in the possibilities and promises of this new virgin land.  They were exceptional in comparison to the known world of humans who were satisfied to live and die in their native homelands.  They were given exceptional opportunities to carve out of a comparative wilderness something new and original.  They were given a “tabula rosa“, a blank slate on which to design the relationships between humans.  From a modern perspective, they missed the boat in several areas, slavery and women’s rights.

Rather than take this to excruciating detail, I will simply note that they were regular, well read, some religious, some not, regular guys with an exceptional opportunity and some guts to put their lives and fortunes on the line to protect their special interests.  We do ourselves a disservice by seeing them as too exceptional for in doing so, we diminished ourselves, limit our own vision, do not see ourselves as capable of the intellectual work of critically thinking about not just what they were meaning, but what they started should mean today.  We may not realize that we too, given the exceptional environment might just have been their equal.  In this time of challenges on many fronts, we should see ourselves as capable of great things, of able to meet great challenges, of being equally exceptional human beings.  But, we should not see ourselves or our nation as justifying any act, moral or immoral, on the basis of Exceptionalism.  We do not deserve special treatment or special rights just because our history gave us exceptional opportunities and resources.  Rather, we ought to feel responsibility for exceptionally decent, and generous behavior, not through war, but through humble recognition of our unique good fortunate.


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.