March 08, 2013

The illegitimate Will Fall

Once upon a time there used to be a pleasant village whose people led a simple but yet productive lifestyles. One day a high ranking member of the army decided that this laid back life style was not good for the villagers and so he coordinated a takeover of the government of the village.

That was over forty years ago. About twelve years ago the officer who consolidated power in his own hands , surrounded himself with co religionists and ruled as a dictator who can never be crossed died. He was very clever though, and so he made sure that a son of his, an eye doctor, would take over from him when he dies.
The dictator who would not allow any opposition or dissenters died but made sure that his successor will be his totally inexperienced eye doctor son. The Ophthalmologist continued the rule of fear started by his father but yet made many promises along the way that he would encourage social equality. Unfortunately he did not put into practice any of the informed reforms that he had promised. Actually, as opportunities presented themselves the son God became ever more convinced that his subjects are not smart enough to rule themselves. He even preached that his one party rule is efficient and that his entourage is not capable of making any wrong calls. The party was infallible and all who would oppose it are traitors and imperialist pigs.

Life under the son-God became more difficult than what it was under his father and he thought that the people in his state are enamoured of him. One day though, a number of kids were playing an innocent ball game when they decided that it was about time that they show the authoritarian authorities that they have had enough and that they will not take it any longer.

Such acts of defiance were deemed to be extremely dangerous by the absolute son God king. He ordered his subordinates to make a lesson of everyone who dared question his authority. All the kids were to be arrested, beaten and then set free.

But the unforeseen took place. Thousands upon thousands from across the country joined the young and decided that the popular saying “Live free or die” was an idea whose time has come. They organized demonstrations and adopted acts of civil defiance in the hope that such peaceful moves will demonstrate that illegitimacy must go.

But as bad luck would have it, the son God decided that he will teach all those that dared demand what was theirs in the first place,a lesson. He ordered his henchman to go out and spread fear among these youthful souls through beatings, arrests, mistreatments and the random acts of violence. When these tactics did not prove to be sufficient to dampen the spirits of the freedom fighters the son-God ordered his tanks, fighter jets, attack helicopters and cluster bombs to be used indiscriminately. They were. The result has been close to 100,000 deaths, a million wounded and the leveling of one city quarter after another over its civilian inhabitants. None of this would frighten the courageous youth anymore. They had vowed that they will not stop short of victory.

The son-God did not like any of this. Minions had dared question his authority He ordered his personal guard to go out in the village and to wire all the building in the village with explosives. When after almost 4 years of this mayhem it became clear that he could no longer deny the inevitability of his demise he ordered that every single building in the village is to be blown up over all its inhabitants. He had to go out in a blaze of glory. What a meaningless loss and what a fool he was.

March 06, 2013

Americans Have No Idea About the True Wealth Inequality in this Country!

In my Comparative Politics class, we're discussing political economy these days and it's been an eye-opener for most, because what people think of reality, well, it isn't!

First, let's say that the purpose of civil society is to provide benefits to its members. In order for the political system to work for the benefit of the people--the common people, the majority of whom are in the middle class--it is best to pick a regime that has this foundation principle. In modern societies, this is a liberal-social democracy.

Liberal, because it safeguards and promotes individual rights and freedom. Social, because it provides a social safety net--services people need. Democracy, because it allows for popular participation and a government of-by-for the people.

A system needs legitimacy to be stable and for longevity. The modern state--a creation of the 18th-19th centuries--provided benefits but also a new narrative, myths, practices, and activities that turned people into citizens. Citizens who had obligations to the state but also benefits. Notions of patriotism and nationalism were forged out of this new reality. This has helped cohesion, elevated pride in one's country, and motivation.

If the system and the government are to work for the people, then we have to ask what, does this mean?  Well, I'm sure there are many views on this, but let me suggest a few items: happiness (yes, individually defined), good health, leisure, education, long life, less stress, stability, peace, clean environment, decent shelter, affluence, access to opportunity, economic mobility, justice, etc, etc.  This is the mission statement of a modern, advanced country. Obviously, this was not the mission of older systems, like the Old Regime.

In order to achieve the mission statement, societies/governments/rulers engaged in redistribution of resources and wealth.  Usually it was from the bottom up. This was not good unless you were a member of the elite. These members made all sorts of arguments (including might makes right) in favor of keeping their privileges. And, their appetite was insatiable. Louis the 14th needed more gold for his lavish palaces. Our modern super wealthy and their shills, most of the Republicans, have drawn the line that no tax increases, no matter how modest, should be applied to the upper classes.

 When Reality Escapes the American People

The Occupy Wall Street with its signs, "We're the 99%", brought needed attention to the upper 1% of the economic elites. Yet, the real magnitude of the problem is still unknown to the American people. The power of the myth, the cultural and political forces have managed to create a strong illusion. 

This illusion includes a good dose of patriotism and nationalism, but in a perverted way. "We're # one!"  Others are risking life and limb to get here. Look at the great things we've achieved, and still do. The American dream is alive! You can make it, like Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, and so many others. With hard work and a bit of luck anyone (most?) will make it ..big!  

It's hard to argue against the tendency to compare ourselves to societies far worse than ours. Somehow comparisons to other societies that have better outcomes aren't being made. Yes, there are several societies that have a better distribution of the economic pie, where people live longer, are healthier, more educated, have more leisure, live is safer environments, and report greater levels of happiness. Their political economies are, however, adjusted differently than the US.

As I speak with many students, I hear that they expect to be rich someday. Likewise, many ordinary Americans think they'll be rich one day, or at least part of the upper middle class. But, statistically speaking, this won't happen. 

Unfortunately, the reality isn't very rosy. The Economist, the Wall Street Journal--to name a couple pro-capitalist publications--have pointed out that economic mobility in the US has fallen behind western Europe! 

In a democracy where public opinion is important, where decisions are made based on people's perceptions, it matters greatly whether the public really knows the facts. 

For decades, studies have been consistent as to this public perception about economic reality in the US. People are asked what a fair society would be like. Then they're asked what they think the US is like in wealth distribution. Their guess is terrifyingly wrong!

Watch this video and forward it to everyone you know. 

 Wealth Inequality in the US

Who could have guessed it, that the top 1% control 40% of the wealth. That the bottom 80% of Americans have only 7% of the wealth, while the other top 19% own 53% of the wealth. Mind bungling.