Income Inequality in Britain

Income Inequality in Britain

Below is a selection from my friend, Jason Michael McCann’s, blog, Random Public Journal’s, latest offering, Westminster’s Power is Unjustified

Power in the state is justified only by the state’s ability to protect the people over which it asserts that power. British rule over the whole of the United Kingdom has been self-serving to the point of criminal inequality. Its power is no longer justified.

If you want power over me then you had better be ready to prove to me that you deserve that power. The sole justification of the state’s power over the lives of people is its ability to provide for the freedom, security, and the welfare of those people. Britain is currently ranked as the twenty-third wealthiest nation in the world, and yet, staggeringly, it is the six most unequal in the developed world in terms of income. After four decades of unchecked Thatcherite neoliberalism, with money being sucked up to the top of the economy, no less than twenty percent of the population are trapped below the poverty line. Income inequality in Britain is greater today than it was when Charles Dicken wrote Hard Times.

I believe that income inequality here in the United States as well as in Great Britain and Ireland have a moral component. There is something unseeemly in the economic benefits of a society flowing to a handful of its members while much of the population loses ground and becomes more insecure.

If you watch the actors in 1960’s television programs like Gunsmoke, you’ll often seen the stuntmen playing small parts as members of crowds, parties, jurors, etc. In the episodes where there were no stunts to be performed it was customary to make sure they still had some income. And it wasn’t just in Hollywood that this kind of kindness was practiced, there was an expectation that there would be human decency in all walks of life.

But somehow, somewhere, the accountants took over and the world of business began to focus not on human beings, making a product, or even some modicum of service to the nation, but on pure profit. And that profit is realized more and more by turning away from investment and from making products to stock manipulation chiefly by stock buy backs – companies buying their own stock instead of looking toward the future or anywhere else.

Human decency, compassion, and kindness are outmoded models of conduct in the modern business world. In fact, they are often considered gateway “drugs” to the theft of monies from the shareholders. Pensions, disaster relief, scholarships, etc; are all stealing from the worthy investor and giving to the undeserving fellow citizens like our children.

Morality and citizenship are key factors in the success of modern civilizations. What can become of us in a land where greed is the only rationale for every action? We’ll get what’s happening now, a loss of faith in our basic institutions, the perception that every politician, every pundit, every newspaper, every television station are bought and paid for, and that playing by the rules is a game for suckers.

We are seeing the breakdown of this society and quite possibly the end of our civilization.

James Pilant

“Politicizing” Crisis?

“Politicizing” Crisis?

Rick Snyder is upset that Hilary Clinton is “politicizing” the Flint water crisis. He is upset at her cruel, cruel words. He did not comment on the even crueler words of Bernie Sanders calling upon him to resign. It is wrong to politicize events beyond the control of elected officials such as natural disaster but the Flint water disaster is natural only if you consider the Governor and his decision making natural and I do not. For at every single turn from the decision to change Flint’s water to the lies told the public about the water and finally the refusal to take action until weeks after the city declared a state of emergency, the responsibility rests in the hands of Governor Rick Snyder.

Snyder set up a system where bankrupt municipalities were seized and run as feudal provinces by a direct appointee of the Governor. The Governor’s choice to run the city decided to save a few million dollars by changing the source of the city’s water. When the city residents and the city officials complained, they were ignored. When the complaints grew in size and seriousness, the people of Flint were deliberately lied to. The agencies of the state government tasked with protecting the citizens concealed evidence and lied about the danger. Only when the evidence became overwhelming did the Governor take action.

And now, now at the last moment when the damage is done – when thousands of children have been exposed to forbidden levels of lead in their water, Rick Snyder is now doing something for the people of Flint, years too late to cure the results of his own decision making. And when he gets called on his actions, on his decisions and often his lack of them, he says we shouldn’t politicize the issue.

It is a political issue. It is the result of political decisions by Rick Snyder and the city managers he appointed. And when you have a political issue, you solve it by political means.

Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are not politicizing crisis. They are talking about a political crisis, a crisis of judgment in government. It is fair game. No lead laden meteorite struck Flint. No storm commingled sewage and fresh water. The city manager appointed by Governor Rick Snyder decided to use a contaminated water supply to save money. That’s politics.

“Politicizing” Crisis?

Like the Wizard of Oz, Snyder is asking us to ignore that man behind the curtain. But that man failed to act when his citizens were being harmed by lead contaminated water. That man is very much the center of this story. And whether or not the Governor now gets it and is now delivering clean water and testing kits is irrelevant.

It was the willingness to consider democracy an unfortunate obstacle in the way of an efficient government that is at the root of the problem. Flint could have continued with its elected government, that government, an elected government responsible and living among their own citizens, were hardly likely to have poisoned their children to save money. But the State acting through the office of the Governor seized control of the city and ran it with only one priority in mind, to squeeze as much money as humanly possible out of the municipality.

Snyder was imposing a corporate ethos on a city in a democracy. The bottom line is everything in a corporate environment. In a city, the lives and health of children get higher priority. When those priorities collided, which one prevailed? The corporate ones.  — “So the water tastes bad? Get used to it.”

This is the United States and the people are supposed to have redress of grievances. Their local government rendered irrelevant and ignored, the people of Flint had nowhere to turn.

And this may be the future of all us. The corporate ethos is invading every part of law and decision making. If the bottom line is all that matters – if, as in this case, avoiding bankruptcy was the only goal, then of what importance are your lives, your jobs and the welfare of your families?

Take a look at the children of Flint. Their ordeal is just beginning. The consequences of lead poisoning are permanent and incurable.

James Pilant

Please read below from the New York Times –

During Sunday’s debate, Clinton said “every single American should be outraged” by the water crisis, adding that “if the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it, there would have been action.”

Following a speaking engagement at a Martin Luther King Day event in Flint, the Republican governor said her tactic doesn’t help solve the problem.

“We’re going to keep working on putting solutions in place,” Snyder told The Detroit News. “And what I would say is politicizing the issue doesn’t help matters. Let’s focus in on the solution and how to deal with the damage that was done and help the citizens of Flint and make Flint a stronger community.”

Visit the Blog, Word Journeys!

Visit the Blog, Word Journeys!

A fellow blogger said something very kind about my work and I went and looked at his. I like it. It’s reflective and intelligent. Below is a paragraph that I not only like but I have wondered exactly the same thing!

Back to the question.  I still have no answer for why work is so important yet so difficult to gain.  Perhaps all important things are (difficult to gain).  I sent somewhere between 100 and 200 job applications while un and under-employed.  Too many people told me during that time and since that I should have been more proactive.  I should have gotten out there face-to-face with employers, and called them again and again after applying.  But why?  If I’ve made the effort to register my interest in working for them, most often without them having even advertised a position, then haven’t I made things easy for them?  It seemed to me that by simply emailing them my resume and cover letter, from that point on, the ball was in their court.  And if I was to hassle them repeatedly for work then, to continue the tennis analogy, all I’d really be achieving was running over to their side of the court and hitting the ball back to myself.  A waste of their valuable, and my much less (or so it felt) valuable, time.

i_150So, just maybe, you can take a minute and go see what a struggling fellow blogger thinks.

James Pilant

Paycheck to paycheck?

Paycheck to paycheck?

One of the strangest phenomenon I see in dealing with wealth in this country is the bizarre dichotomy between the view of what is enough for “them,” and what is enough for “me.” In a Koch brothers interview, one of the brothers pointed out that if you put a 30K workers salary on an international scale that put the worker in top one percent of the planet’s income earners. Apparently this made him feel that Americans should be content and maybe consider themselves a little fat and happy.

On the other hand we have this from the short selection below where a man struggles from paycheck on an annual salary of 450K.

There has to be some kind of conflict between these two points of view.

When people run businesses they don’t come in neutral in regard to how the feel about what is and is not an adequate income. What does a person who feels that 450,000 dollars a year is a week to week struggle do in regard to paying the workers? And what does it say when a multi-billionaire can statistically analyze away income inequality by simply increasing the sample size to encompass the entire planet?

If you believe that 30k is a worthy and fully adequate income, what kind of business ethics are you likely to practice? Are you more likely to sell payday loans?  – attach some new fees to your banking practices?

If you believe that 450k is so little money that you have to struggle paycheck to paycheck what kind of business are you likely to run? I have to acknowledge here that I have no concept what that would look like mentally but it is still troubling.

Income inequality is a wound on this country driving us apart and it by its very nature is an ethical problem that drives business wrong doing.

James Pilanti_296

The short passage below is from the Guardian –

Marguerita Cheng, a certified financial planner and CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth, has a client in the Washington, DC area who makes $450,000 to $600,000 a year but lives paycheck to paycheck. He spends a lot of it on keeping peace with his ex-wife.

Close to half a million a year sounds like a lot, but he has to pay $8,000 per month to his ex-wife and both of their kids are in private high school. Four years of private high school cost $150,000.

“He basically uses his bonus to cover the private high school tuition,” Cheng said. “I understand that this is an extraordinary situation. I’ll share a saying that my dad taught me: ‘Money may not buy happiness, but it can buy peace.’ In this situation, sometimes you have to do what you have to do to keep an ex-spouse happy.”

Cheng’s client is not alone. Many Americans struggle to make-ends meet on six-figure paychecks – which by some are considered “upper income” or even rich.

A German Fantasy

A German Fantasy

Reading as I do about the crimes and stupidities of humankind in the field of ethics, it is hard to surprise me, even harder to astonish me. And yet, today that happened. The German ambassador to the United States wrote an essay entitled, “Germany Wants a Strong Greece.” And that is easy to believe if I wipe away the memories of the last five years.

Greece wants a strong Greece. Yes, when the Russians bombed Helsinki in 1939, the Russian foreign minister, Molotov denied it and said they were dropping bread to the poor oppressed people of the city. Maybe the Germans will drop a similar brand of bread on Greece. After all the Greeks are poor and oppressed.

A German Fantasy
A German Fantasy

Forgive me if I sound angry but I seem to recall an IMF study that shows under the agreement imposed almost entirely by the German Minister of Finance, Greece will not be able to pay off its debt in fifteen years and quite possibly never. Call me a cynic but a fifteen year period of austerity (possibly for much longer, eternity?) doesn’t sound like a deal someone made with a great love for the Greeks.

The events of the last few weeks include a refusal to deal with Greece by the European Union until it agreed in advance to their demands. Once this had been done, the Greeks were made to sell off 50 billions Euros worth of government property which is to be placed safely outside Greek control. The agreement doubled the sales tax in Greece putting the hammer down on any hope of a healthy tourist industry, one of Greece’s vital sources of revenue. I could go on, but why bother? It’s item after item after item.

The only large group of people who believe that the Germans have been kind to the Greeks are other Germans.

The Germans have almost single handedly imposed an economic regime on Greece which is almost certain to fail. The hardship imposed on the Greeks in roughly equivalent to that endured in the United States during the Great Depression and if the International Monetary Fund is right, it could last for decades.

Does that sound like a strong Greece?

Maybe the German word for strong means servile, weak and helpless?

I’m use to corporate flacks saying anything they are told to. But this? Maybe when you have needlessly crippled a country so that it will never pay off its debts, maybe when your own enormous debts have been forgive twice in the last century, maybe when you appear to all the world as great cruel bully, you should just keep a low profile?

Or maybe your self-righteousness is so overpowering, you just can’t believe that everyone just needs a little push to understand how wonderful you are. This is a German fantasy. The real surprise is that they apparently believe they are kind and generous, acting out of a genuine concern for the Greek people. God save all of us from that kind of love.

James Pilant

Germany Wants a Strong Greece | Peter Wittig

Germany wants a strong Greece, because a thriving Greek economy benefits the eurozone as a whole. This is why Greece and the other 18 eurozone members agreed on a comprehensive reform package that will help Greece regain economic competitiveness. Some of these reforms were quickly approved by the Greek parliament — by an overwhelming majority. They will make Greece more competitive and economically sound.

via Germany Wants a Strong Greece | Peter Wittig.

No One Here Is Elected

No One Here Is Elected

Below is a quote from an article from Huffington Post. It is reported in it that the Eurozone is not just demanding that Greece capitulate to its desires, they must do it before negotiations can even start. There is not even the semblance of respect for a nation state or its people.

No One Here Is Elected

Picture yourself in negotiations. You’ve gotten behind in your mortgage and you want more time. The bank says that before they will even talk to you, negotiate with you in any way, you must sign over your income and submit to the banks’s recommendations of how and what kind of work you should do. That’s what the Greeks are being asked to do. Take all your bargaining chips off the table. Only when you are powerless and helpless, will we deign to speak to you. Give in now and we may show mercy.

There is really not much historical precedent for this. The only thing I can think of are the Austro-Hungarian demands on Serbia to yield up its sovereignty in the wake of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

There are five things about these bailout talks that really bother me. First, the unfairness of it. To start with, the bulk of the bailout money has gone to foreign lenders and little has been used to bolster the economy. Second, we’re not dealing here with sovereign states or even groups of sovereign nations. We’re dealing with finance ministers and technocrats, essentially international bankers. They’re not elected. They can’t be voted out. Essentially, they can do pretty much what they want and the only people they are beholding to are other bankers. Democracy is irrelevant. Third, the Greek people are suffering terrible pain. The unemployment rate is more than 25% and the youth unemployment rate is more than 50%. And I can on and on about the other damaging effects of austerity. Fourth, the Greeks are being told with great specificity what they must do. The Eurozone is making a mockery of the power of national governments to conduct their own affairs. The Greeks want to impose a tax on businesses. The Eurozone says no. But the Eurozone doesn’t stop there. They tell the Greeks how they want the money raised and expect them to do it. They want a value added tax (VAT) and cuts in pensions. There’s more but you get the idea. The Greeks want to do a variety of things to raise revenue and the Eurozone and the IMF are staying on script: privatization, lower income taxes, cuts in social services and reduced regulation. And the last thing that bothers me and most important, it can happen to us. Whole nations, states, counties and communities can get into financial trouble and if we do, who we will turn to for help? Banks, the IMF, or state imposed administrators, technocrats from business, banking and corporate law will be our only choices and what will they demand? You can see it right here, right now. This will be the prototype in the future for dealing with creditor governments, whatever their size. If we have a great a power differential like they have in Greece there will be no negotiations. You will accept what is offered to you and you will do it without question. And above all else, forget that democracy things.

What is being implied her is that it is not the people that are sovereign, it is the international financial system of interlocking banks, finance ministers and multinational corporations.

I am sure that there are people reading this that believe that I am over reacting. Many hold the belief that if the Greeks overspent they should pay the money back. That does not sound unreasonable. But it is the highest level of hypocrisy imaginable to impose conditions that will make paying the debt impossible.

If you were one of my students, I would expect one of you to ask, “How do you know that the Greeks can’t pay under those conditions?” And I, of course, delighted by student intelligence and initiative will reply that the IMF has a paper out saying that they can’t pay under current conditions. Read below from The Guardian.

Greece would face an unsustainable level of debt by 2030 even if it signs up to the full package of tax and spending reforms demanded of it, according to unpublished documents compiled by its three main creditors.

The documents, drawn up by the so-called troika of lenders, support Greece’s argument that it needs substantial debt relief for a lasting economic recovery. They show that, even after 15 years of sustained strong growth, the country would face a level of debt that the International Monetary Fund deems unsustainable.

The documents show that the IMF’s baseline estimate – the most likely outcome – is that Greece’s debt would still be 118% of GDP in 2030, even if it signs up to the package of tax and spending reforms demanded. That is well above the 110% the IMF regards as sustainable given Greece’s debt profile, a level set in 2012. The country’s debt level is currently 175% and likely to go higher because of its recent slide back into recession.

So, the Eurozone already has evidence that they are essentially putting Greece into a state of permanent depression. Why would they want to that?

They aren’t saying. But I have a theory. All over Europe, there are people who are worried about what’s happening. Like me they wonder why nation states should bow before financial interests. They wonder why whether people should go without education, pensions and healthcare while the rich have a reduced tax burden and they pay higher taxes for less and less. They wonder much the same way we do in the United States, why their votes matter so little. Greece is an example of the power that can be brought on any show of defiance. Questioning the economic order has consequences, severe consequences. Don’t vote, comply. Economic value is the sole determinate in policy and practice. Humanity, compassion, honor, patriotism, and Christianity are all irrelevant concerns. The money must be paid, not to the people, not to the governments but to the banks. It is the money that votes.

James Pilant

Eurozone Leaders Meet, As Greece’s Debt Crisis Talks Continue

Euro zone leaders told near-bankrupt Greece at an emergency summit on Sunday it must enact key reforms this week to restore trust before they will open talks on a financial rescue to keep it in the European currency area.

Leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will be required to push legislation through parliament to convince his 18 partners in the euro zone to release immediate funds to avert a state bankruptcy and start negotiations on a third bailout program estimated at up to 86 billion euros ($95.5 billion).

Six sweeping measures including tax and pension reforms must be enacted by Wednesday night and the entire package endorsed by parliament before talks can start, a draft decision by Eurogroup finance ministers sent to the leaders showed.

via Eurozone Leaders Meet, As Greece’s Debt Crisis Talks Continue.

Don’t Bother Your Pretty Little Head

Don’t Bother Your Pretty Little Head

Jamie Dimon has publicly asked whether or not Senator Elizabeth Warren understands the global banking system. This is, of course, nonsense, but this kind of attack is often used on anyone the financial world considers the naive. And by naive, they mean anyone who doesn’t sympathize with their wants, desires and their ways of making money. As you can see from the quote below from “Think Progress,” Warren taught corporate law at Harvard University and published nine books among other significant qualifications. I agree with her that what upsets the financial world epitomized by the likes of Jamie Dimon isn’t that she doesn’t understand what they do but that she understands all too well what they do.

Of course, Dimon has experience foreign and unique that Warren will probably never have. His firm has agreed to billions of dollars of fines for illegal activities while he was in charge. Leading an institution that has repeatedly broken the law provides a man with a unique take on financial transactions, I’m sure.

Is it naive to question the money making techniques of the giant, “too big to fail” financial institutions? Undoubtedly the denizens of these firms view themselves as job and wealth creators doing God’s work. And who are we that would question that? Let me respond with a question of my own – who are you that your “work” is guaranteed with taxpayer dollars, literally trillions of taxpayers’ dollars? – Who are you that when you make mistakes doing “God’s work,” that the public loans you billions of dollars to save your firms from your own incompetence? Who are you who deliberately and with full awareness of the law break that law, not once but over and over again? And why is it that when you do tens of billions of dollars of damage to this nation and other nations, the worst thing that happens to you is a fine?

That God’s work analogy is in a way correct for these financial institutions do seem to have some kind of divine intervention saving them from failure and jail.

And when investment bankers get this kind of treatment, this loving application of government protection and a gentle massage of warm taxpayer dollars, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we get statements like “I don’t know if she fully understands the global banking system.”

Those of us who don’t get this loving treatment, who lack armies of lobbyists, millions in campaign contributions and never get to play golf with the President, must seem foolish in comparison.

James Pilant

A Bank CEO Said Elizabeth Warren Doesn’t Understand Wall Street. Her Response Was Perfect. | ThinkProgress

On Wednesday, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon said of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (D), “I don’t know if she fully understands the global banking system.”

By Thursday, Warren already had a response. Speaking on the Huffington Post’s “So, That Happened” podcast, she said, “The problem is not that I don’t understand the global banking system. The problem for these guys is that I fully understand the system and I understand how they make their money. And that’s what they don’t like about me.”

Warren’s résumé comes with nearly 20 years of experience teaching corporate law at Harvard University, publishing nine books, chairing the Congressional Oversight Panel that oversaw the bank bailouts in 2008 (of which JP Morgan was a beneficiary), and coming up with the idea for and helping to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has already helped consumers avoid numerous predatory lending schemes and recouped more than $4.8 billion through its enforcement actions.

via A Bank CEO Said Elizabeth Warren Doesn’t Understand Wall Street. Her Response Was Perfect. | ThinkProgress.

From around the web –

Explain to me how J.P Morgan after paying out billions in fines due to illegal activity still employs the same C.E.O? Jamie Dimon might very well be one of those non-violent psychopaths who doesn’t care about rules and regulations, only his own ambition and greed. I wish that we had more lawmakers who were as intelligent, principled and courageous as Senator Elizabeth Warren. I couldn’t take Jamie Dimon’s words seriously when he tried to insult Senator Warren, she is a Harvard Bankruptcy Professor, she set up the CFPB, her creation which is helping a lot of people, she is a double threat because she can decipher and translate finance speak so that the people understand, she has lifted the veil and Jamie Dimon hates it. …

Art and Reductionism

Art and Reductionism

I was listening this morning to the music of Paul Van Dyk. He does techno music and, of course, not everyone enjoys that genre. Nevertheless, I find him quite talented and he is also commercially successful. And that got me thinking. Isn’t he one thing under economic analysis  and another as an artist? And this thought began to trouble me. (Here let me give you an example of his work from the people at You Tube) –

As an economic unit, we can discuss him in terms of record sales,  and perhaps check actuarial tables to see how long he might be expected to live and what profits he might generate over that period. But there are other elements that might be considered. For one thing, when I hear the music I want to dance and I know that I want to hear it again. There is a recognition of pieces of music that I have hard before and the knowledge that this music will be incorporated in that greater experience.

Music is an art subject to creativity. So there are standards other than profitability. We know that a five year tapping enthusiastically on a toy piano is not the equivalent of Tchaikovsky. But measured only by monetary standards, the artistic merits of different works melt away.

Here is an example of a once popular song that you might consider as not being on the same level of talent as the one above-

Imagine yourself as a television or a cable executive. If you have a perception of art as an independent value, you are likely to choose Van Dyk over Stevens. But if you have no perception or much more likely you were taught in business school or in an administrative program that only economic value is important than Stevens might be a better choice.

In fact, under Milton Friedman’s reasoning using anything but Stevens should that music generate the most profit is stealing from the shareholders. A firm has no social responsibility to any stakeholder save the shareholders for they are the economic engine of the organization. Considering the actual power of shareholders in the corporate, this is a fairly comical concept. Here, here and here are vivid examples and explanations of shareholder impotence. (In the third entry, while the author hates the idea of shareholder power, he admits they are currently powerless.)

Perhaps, since in fact, the shareholders are a secondary consideration, we should consider the customer, the audience, to be a legitimate stakeholder? Is there any duty under free market fundamentalism or Neo-liberal doctrine to the consumer? No, they are economic units whose interests are to be weighed in terms of profitability. But there is, if you think of the audience as human beings who may be harmed or degraded by kitsch art and enlightened by great art. But if you do a reductionist analysis – if every element of society from art to a new born child is subject to economic analysis and solely to economic analysis, than the audience is a mass of disassociated atoms who may be used in any manner desired. So why not bombard them with schlock? Why not lie or mislead if that is more popular than the truth? Why not encourage them to hate minorities, despise foreigners and think illegal acts by the government are a pretty good deal? It seems to me that adherence to that kind of reductionism, the idea that monetary value and greed are the basic elements of economic life and life in general, will work to nullify all the thousands of years of philosophy and religion and all the other elements of our cultural heritage that support the concepts of morals, ethics and brotherhood.

I understand the breath taking delight of a unified theory that explains everything. And I have met those who explained to me that economic analysis explains everything from child rearing to heroism and finally to all history. There was a book I read once that explained the American Civil War as purely an economic event. However, my perception is that slavery was a major factor and that the horrifying nature of the practice goes far beyond any economic practice. I worry that if a person were to make decision based on purely economic factors, judging human worth only in terms of value, than slavery begins to make a lot sense. I don’t think so.

Besides slavery, 16 hour days, child labor and moving dangerous industries overseas can all be justified economically. Taking logically to its final conclusion, human rights and democracy are serious impediments to economic development. How about a real life example? How about this one, or this one or this one. It often seems that if a local government questions privatization be it nursing homes or charger school, people begin to talk about abolishing it. Have you noticed what happens when local governments do things that anger corporate interests even in the most peripheral ways? How about this one or this one or this one or this one? These examples show cases where people are losing the ability to make decisions for themselves.

I have been told directly that if I judge one form of art, (if memory serves, my specific example was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), as less worth preserving than other art, I’m an elitist. My student seemed to feel that he had won the argument once he trotted out the word “elitist.” While I am cognizant that much of what passed for high art has been discarded over the years and much that was originally derided as trash has been re-examined and reassessed, I don’t worry too much about the “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” being reassessed as better than “Citizen Kane.” There are standards and many of them have stood the test of time. But I have been regarded as a fool and a pathetic one for not recognizing the obvious truth that people are a means to an end, that rules are for the weak and that I was never going to make real money with my attitude. In other words, standards, whatever they may be, art work or relational, are irrelevant. Monetary value is the thing.

I ask you to reflect. What if you have a child? Maybe schlock is okay for everybody else’s children but what about yours? I think you might consider doing what I did and not have television in the house. In my case that was from when my son was eleven to the present. He’s now 21, very well read and very much a gentleman. I believe that decision was important in raising a child with strong moral beliefs.

If you are willing to protect your child from poor taste, bad morals and just wasting their time on broadcast nonsense, and I believe you do – than together we believe there are standards that are important and useful. If that is the case, that calls into question the premises of free market fundamentalism and Neo-liberalism. It can’t be that everything is quantifiable in terms of value and yet there are important standards resting on other rationales.

Can we use economic analysis if there are other values? Absolutely. All we have to do is remember that this form of analysis is just a tool. Sometimes it’s useful. Sometimes it’s not. Applying it to every human endeavor is taking a valuable form of thinking and stretching it beyond its capabilities. But there are many who find this kind of gross simplification persuasive and because of the seductive nature of these ideas to wealthy elites, it has become a powerful tool for remaking civilization in the image of the market. That’s a form of idolatry. There are worthy ideas but this one destroys other ideas, in particular, the concepts of inherent human worth, the precepts of religion and philosophical reasoning. Can you imagine a society purely designed along the lines of a market?

We don’t have to live in a world where everything is economically valued. We can live with truth and beauty, love and honor. And we can use economic concepts for economic problems while remembering there are other ways of thinking and other ways of making decisions.

James Alan Pilant

One Child, One Teacher

One child, one teacher
One Child, One Teacher

12 incredible Malala quotes that will make you want to give her the Nobel Peace Prize all over again –

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”

via 12 incredible Malala quotes that will make you want to give her the Nobel Peace Prize all over again –

The Importance of Teaching

Teaching changes individuals and societies. The idea that human beings who were not aristocrats could improve themselves is an Enlightenment concept(1). This is a relatively new idea in history and hopefully an abiding one.  Those of us who teach have a responsibility to shape minds and character. Many teachers transmit either willingly or unconsciously their own biases. But the real revolutionary act is to transmit the basic skills of a respect for facts and the ability to use reason.

A developed mind, fact and reason oriented, is a lethal weapon against stale tradition, incompetent leadership and, above all, complacency. It tends to activate the mind and invigorate the recognition of self-importance and action.

We live in an age where conspiracy theorists, internet come-ons and manipulative business practices are common. We can try to knock them down one by one or we can seek to create in a student’s mind the intellectual skills necessary for self-defense. The skills that help a student understand the risks are very similar to those enabling them to recognize opportunities, and that empowerment is another goal fulfilled when the student-teacher cooperation toward learning occurs. Remember education is not purely a matter of teaching skill. The student can always choose to past tests and ignore the rest of the content.

An undeveloped mind is a playground for manipulators, whether corporate flacks, PR experts or venal politicians. A critical thinking human can learn to protect himself from scams, false claims and other nonsense.

For an educator, a teacher, that is the mission. To raise a human being from a state of understanding less to understanding more. In itself this is a life and society changing event.

James Pilant


(1) Leading educational theorists like England’s John Locke and Switzerland’s Jean Jacques Rousseau both emphasised the importance of shaping young minds early. By the late Enlightenment there was a rising demand for a more universal approach to education, particularly after the American and French Revolutions.

Power From Below!

Power from Below
Power from Below
Power From Below!

From the Guardian Newspaper.

Swaziland’s royal family have long kept their distance from the paparazzi in a way British royals can only dream about. Not any more, thanks to the rise of Swazi Leaks, an online group determined to expose the opulent lifestyle of Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The movement, inspired by Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, frequently publishes pictures of King Mswati and his family living the high life. One recent post says: “Our taxes pay for the king’s children to party in Los Angeles in the USA, will we struggle to eat here in Swaziland.”

The Little People’s Power

What is meant by “power from below?” It is the ability of those with little economic or political power to actively oppose the current order. One way is by publicizing the flaws of the system. That is what is being done in the article quoted above.

As economic and political power has concentrated in the hands of the one percent, this type of activism is becoming more and more important. It may in the end become the only vestige of democracy remaining.

Net Neutrality

One of the arguments for net neutrality is that if there are fast lanes and slow lanes, the non-commercial side of the net, politics in particular, will operate at a handicap. This is a serious problem. It would take a lively, vital and continually developing medium of democracy and neuter it.

Business interests often find democracy to be an obstacle in their path. Communities seem attached to neighborhood schools. Thus school boards can be a problem when privatizing or “incentivizing” public education. Some towns prefer fracking to not take place within the city limits.  And so companies react by lawsuit, massive campaign contributions and from time to time, simply destroying the elected body, in particular school boards.

Is there a business ethics problem here? In the minds of many corporatists, democracy is the problem. Can you imagine their pleasure in a two lane internet? The first lane for the commercial interests at full speed. The interests of corporate business enshrined. The second lane for the public. The interests of the public consigned to a ratty, ill-used dirt road – the very epitome of second rate.

Often, we get the impression that multi-national corporations prefer the the sweet guarantees of totalitarian dictatorships over the democratic societies where they were born and nurtured. And this in spite of the fact, that the dangers of such deals are well documented.

Is it wrong for a corporation to hamstring the will of the people using its massive financial advantages and its many friends in politics, academia and the church? Sometimes, corporations use their power to secure tax money, evade taxes and other responsibilities. Sometimes they take the regulated and convert it to the unregulated (fracking). Sometimes they blackmail cities and states for one benefit or another.

The Jesse James Theory of Citizenship?

The Jesse James Theory of citizenship is when a corporation desires and expects the protections of a nation state while at the same time declining any responsibility toward the welfare of that same nation state.

Corporations are under the fascinating concept that they are in a real sense, independent nations. Currently under American auspices they are seeking treaty making powers. Having nation status without a geographic presence, or a military might sound ridiculous and it is. What is happening is the desire of the modern corporation to exist between nations without any responsibility save for its own interests.

In times to come, there will be attempts to set up corporate utopias on abandoned oil rigs or perhaps even an island. The power of even the smallest criminal gang to annihilate one of these intellectual exercises is not understood by those who have lived in the protection of an organized society. They understand “the real world.” This is, in spite of its name, a bizarre fantasy where they are the tough, realists who understand how everything works. When these overpaid, over-praised denizens of the skyward reaches of organized societies are casually plundered by “unorganized” societies, the rest of us less favored ones will find it difficult to generate sympathy.

We don’t live together in societies to oppress the creative classes as in an Ayn Rand fantasy. We exist in societies, nation states, because they have demonstrated over hundreds of years the ability to protect their citizens and organize economically. The word, parochial, has been used to describe the attitude of those of us who find the willingness of corporations to abandon a nation a demonstration of a lack of patriotism. But we do consider ourselves Americans, Canadians, Frenchmen, etc. It is a rabid and selfish form of self interest that pushes for this kind of corporate abandonment of national and ethical responsibilities.

Self-interest is not the key to utopia. In morals and ethics the distance between self interest and raw evil is only a matter of scale.

James Pilant