Category Archives: Myths Exposed

Maslow, Law & Grace, Reactionary & Revolutionary

Figure 1 – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow captured a moment in human evolution which, in the Enlightenment tradition, summed up the need for meaning from an individual perspective. What is perhaps understated to some degree by his model is that the Latin idea of nātūra (nature) and the more radical Greek notion of φύσις, εως, ἡ (phusis, physics) was our tutor and guardian. The dance of environment and individual conspired together to bring us to the next stage of human evolution. Basic needs demanded and required, upon the pain of death, obedience. The height of individualism was addressing the need for human meaning and personal fulfillment. Just as human individuality, from the physics of space-time, essentially entails ‘from a past’, ‘in a present’, and ‘to a future’ so meaning is derived from origin, to presence, and toward telos, a goal or culmination. In Aristotelian terms,

In Metaphysics Α.1, Aristotle says that “everyone takes what is called ‘wisdom’ (sophia) to be concerned with the primary causes (aitia) and the starting-points (or principles, archai).” (Cohen, 2020)

Furthermore, Aristotle writes of dunamis (potentiality) and entelecheia (actuality) or energeia (activity),

Since Aristotle gives form priority over matter, we would expect him similarly to give actuality priority over potentiality. And that is exactly what we find (Θ.8, 1049b4–5). Aristotle distinguishes between priority in logos (account or definition), in time, and in substance. (1) Actuality is prior in logos since we must cite the actuality when we give an account of its corresponding potentiality. Thus, ‘visible’ means ‘capable of being seen’; ‘buildable’ means ‘capable of being built'(1049b14–16). (2) As regards temporal priority, by contrast, potentiality may well seem to be prior to actuality, since the wood precedes the table that is built from it, and the acorn precedes the oak that it grows into. Nevertheless, Aristotle finds that even temporally there is a sense in which actuality is prior to potentiality: “the active that is the same in form, though not in number [with a potentially existing thing], is prior [to it]” (1049b18–19). A particular acorn is, of course, temporally prior to the particular oak tree that it grows into, but it is preceded in time by the actual oak tree that produced it, with which it is identical in species. The seed (potential substance) must have been preceded by an adult (actual substance). So in this sense actuality is prior even in time. which it is identical in species. The seed (potential substance) must have been preceded by an adult (actual substance). So in this sense actuality is prior even in time[1]. (Cohen, 2020)

From Aristotle’s perspective human individuality is not self-identical but essentially interwoven in phusis. Actuality and potentiality are both fundamentally constituent of reality[2]. From the Latin world and Roman Christianity, the individual emerges predominately in the landscape of phusis. This brings us to law and grace.

The law, as what Christianity deems the ‘Old Testament’, was a tutor and guardian until grace, what Christianity deems the ‘New Testament’, would transform the individual in the same way Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs transformed needs. Needs in the fight for survival was unforgiving and ruthless to offenders. Transformations to psychological needs and to higher needs of self-fulfillment also resulted in a kind of reprieve from more basic needs. While Judaic laws required, upon pain of death in certain instances, obedience; grace writes the law in the heart. So, for grace the law is no longer fundamentally wed to phusis but becomes a kind of phusis unto itself in its transformation. This is how individuality emerges from phusis.

Underlying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is the background of phusis. The individual finds meaning by moving from the law to grace, from mere survival to self-fulfillment, self-determination but cannot end in the laws of individuality but move on to the contextual, potentiality, which is determinate of the metaphysic of individuality. This movement is dependent upon fulfilling the earlier requirements of biological dependence on phusis. However, the individual has the potential to transform itself to a higher level of meaning and purpose than mere servitude to phusis and the truncation of contextuality into actuality.

Capitalism is the economic expression of individualism. Capitalism holds the stick of phusis but also raises the carrot of higher individual potentiality. However, it proposes not a grace of human individuality in which the individual attains a transformation of meaning but a domination of phusis. By conquering the slavery of mere survival, ideally, we can put phusis into the position of bondage and subjugation to affluent needlessness. In this then, we find the Error of the illusion of power and the reality of phusis. In Karl Marx’ terms the problem of capitalism is the creation of artificial needs, otherwise called marketing. We must have the next smart phone. In this sense, meaning is accomplished by the myth of Sisyphus. In cheating phusis Sisyphus was forever condemned to push a rock up a hill only to have it roll down once again. The promise of capitalism could never deliver us from phusis but could only forever require our aspirations which, for most, was doomed to fail. Even the most successful capitalist must give way to phusis in death. Furthermore, conquering phusis turns out to merely produce climate change and not the end of phusis but the end of humanity – eternal death of human.

This is how individualism has played itself out through history. However, another marginalized narrative has also held the potentiality of grace through cooperation with phusis. Cooperation does not spring forth from absolute individualism but from collectivity and responsibility. Human meaning is not obtained through the desperations of individualism but through the graces of maturity. Maturity recognizes our dependence upon phusis and each other. We no longer actualize the dynamics of power and subjugation built into the metaphysics of individualism but allow, make way, for the gift of the other; the other as phusis and as the he or she we face. When we give way to the other, we take responsibility for our obligation, our indebtedness to what we are not. We integrate and harmonize, make peace, with reality instead of a pitched battle with it. We no longer blame the other for our lack of power but take hold of our responsibility to the cry of the other. This does not take us back to manufactured needs of self-justification in the form of individual merit.

The bourgeoisie labor in self-adoring-adorning will imputing their metaphysic of failed individualism upon the proletariat. They absolve themselves of responsibility to the higher call of action in care. Democracy is based in a call higher than the metaphysics of individualism can understand. It places political responsibility on the individual to respond to the call of collectivity and the other. By the ‘other’ I mean phusis and the he or she. As long as we lapse into individualism, we absolve ourselves of the phenomenological reality of language.

Language is not private and individual. Language is not something we manufacture for the purpose of creating artificial needs which enrich its producers. Language is an archeology, an origin which we did not create, which preceded us from those we never knew. It is not merely a tool but a history-scape which informs us before we become cognitively aware of it. Self-realization cannot happen without others who have long since receded into language’s background. Even as eyes and ears are filters which let us make sense of the world, language functions as filters we call ‘reality’ in which ‘I’ as an individual never created or became the origin of. In this way, we are ‘individuals’. We name ourselves and bestow on ourselves the title of identity as if we were some kind of self-unification. Insanity is what we call those who have a private language and found identity upon it.

Democracy requires a perspective and a horizon in which each individual has place. ‘Place’ here is not a badge of individual merit. It is bestowed from how we actually are. We are bound and indebted to the other, to phusis, to any such thing which we call reality. While this can be denied in favor of autocracy, whether individual or political, it is ultimately self-defeating as it vaults the individual to heights which can only be maintained by the very opposite phenomenon it employs to create its artificial, virtual reality. It uses language to deny how language is, how it emerges from an exteriority which cannot be solipsistic. The eternal recurrence of the same in linguistic filters are fabricated to protect and destroy the myth of power. The endless repetition of simulacra and re-simulation are doomed from within because they cannot hear the still small voice of phusis. They can only result in the rise and demise of civilization and our environment. This is where reactionary and revolution find relevance.

Reactionary is a throw back to a fabricated past the never was. It is the wild west of individualism. There never was a John Wayne of individualism. It was created, manufactured, re-produced to protect the few violently. However, there is no evil genius here. Rather, it is a result of a linguistic history which advocates against itself. The heroic defies reality in favor of its own phantasma of who it is. It creates a past in which it is its own origin. It is self-caused. It is the creator of heroic and horror-ic values. It is the law in the garb of self-identity.

The Judaic law was given by God not man, but the new version of the law is the created simulacra of man, of a history which wishes to be but cannot be. Reactionaryism can only produce the reality of Sisyphus, an eternal recurrence of the same, reproduction of something that never was. It is wish-fulfillment which attempts to renew itself in itself and by itself. Revolution welcomes the new but all to often fails in the linguistic sanctums of power.

Revolution, as the new which never was, looks toward a future which has never been but is all too often doomed by its self-sufficiency in the phantasms of language which pull it back into the gravitational orbit of self-identity. Just as the revolutionary idea of democracy has lapsed in the United States back into the reactionary simulations of authoritarianism, revolution cannot succeed if it utilizes tools from our linguistic past which were devised to protect the illusion of power. What we need is to re-think language in terms of phusis. Our situatedness in history and phusis is not as masters of power but fundamentally dependent upon that which is not-me. Revolution can only find a higher transformation when it lets the ghost of power and absolute individualism fall into the dust bin of failed, phantasmas of a past that can never be. We must find an ethics which is participatory and essential to the responsibility towards the other. As human we are all part of a pluralistic, heterogenous reality-scape which offers many abodes that can never be commensurate.

Those that revel in power and self-identity have fashioned for themselves a simulacra, a golden calf, which can only be repeated in reactionary violence. The cry of the other, the suffering of the other. The relegation of oppression and self-absorbed denial of who we are and not who we imagine the ‘they’ are is the revolution which will usher in a transformation with ourselves and our environment. Transformation from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Individual Needs must give up the ghost of labor which can only toil in eternal repetition of the same. This is not a new hierarchy. This is an acceptance of responsibility and obligation to the other, to phusis. We cannot arise at the expense of the other and our environment. We must have the grace of making place for the other. We must allow the content of phusis and the real needs of the other to call us to responsibility. The individual does not disappear in collectivity as drop of water in the ocean. This is another illusion built on the mirage of individualism. Responsibility places us as situatedness to that that which we cannot efface and calls us to actualize our responsibility to that call. In this untapped potential for what it means to be human we find cooperation and concern for what we cannot erect a phantasma of. It is founded in a language and history which we cannot have power over but can recognize our absolute limitation in the face of radical alterity which requires our responsibility not our violence in its defacement.

References

Cohen, S. M. (2020). “Aristotle’s Metaphysics”. (E. N. (ed.), Ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2020 Edition). Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-metaphysics/

[1] Interesting to note that Aristotle’s notion of actuality and potentiality seems to me to have some reverberations in modern chaos theory. Chaos theory does not deny order or actuality. Instead, it tells us that order is a co-determination of chaos. Order and chaos are not diametrically opposed as subject and object. They have an essential relationship. The universe is structured as self-organizing as fractals. Fractals have the unique capacity to be both ordered and chaotic infinitely. There appears to no limit to the patterns they can make in the same way as each snowflake is absolutely unique. This is what is called self-organizing. In the chaos theory the universe is self-organizing. There is no limit to the nature of how it organizes. A butterfly’s wings can spark a tsunami on the other side of the world. This makes the outcome essentially unpredictable. Likewise, actuality or energy emerges from potentiality as limitless patterns emerge from fractals. Actuality emerges as particular forms just as language emerges as particular histories, invocations of reality and absolutes. The are uniquely particular and ordered but their origins are not in the absolute of their actuality, of their content, or the mystery we call reality, but in the absolutely unpredictable outcomes of potentiality. Additionally, they are intimately the subject of absolute unpredictable, chaotic changes. Therefore, cause and effect are not a reality but an observation of a commonality, a particular fractal pattern, which emerges in language and history.

[2] I use the word ‘reality’ here on the context of its philosophical history which I cited in my previous post, Maslow, Law & Grace, Reactionary & Revolutionary. Reality is not the simplicity of an object related to a subject as philosophy starting in the 19th century has argued culminating around the same time that Einstein’s theory of relativity was taking off at the beginning of the 20th century. Reality is a chaotic and ordered process of language and its other. It is not self-evident except in supposed, assumed and metaphysical histories. It is interactive and chaotically potential in its actual forms. One simple example is the relativity of space-time. As an individual human we have mass. Since we have mass, we create small but not insignificant distortions of space-time around us. Additionally, time runs faster on the top of a mountain than in a valley (gravitational time dilation). Each individual is wrapped from birth to death in their space-time continuum. Additionally, this space-time continuum has stretch and minute variations which directly correspond to relative masses and speed called frames of reference. It is wrong to think of time and space as static, universal and absolute. Similarly, it is wrong to think of individuality as absolute as it is determined by the other of history, language, phusis, and the he and she. All of this is dynamic and chaotic, its capacity for predictability. Closing down individuality into an absolute is death. As Heidegger tells us, “Death is the possibility of the absolute impossibility of Dasein (human being or more precisely the ‘there’ of being).” The impossibility of individuality emerges in language and history as an absolute impossibility or as Heidegger calls it the “they-self”. The they as a self is immediately contradictory and unsustainable as it is a self-contradiction. Similarly, absolute individuality cloaks it contextual histories which are relegated to its margins. This does not negate the form of the individual but places it in relative context with it’s ‘not’ as a pattern in fractals does not deny it’s infinite, unpredictable, and chaotic patterns but emerges from them. However, the not is not a negation but an affirmation of an absolutely ‘other’, even as death is a possibility in its absolute impossibility. The fear of death is actually the fear of life since no one will ever experience death as Epicurus tells us,

“Why should I fear death?

If I am, then death is not.

If Death is, then I am not.

Why should I fear that which can only exist when I do not?

Long time men lay oppressed with slavish fear.

Religious tyranny did domineer.

At length the mighty one of Greece

Began to assent the liberty of man.”

What is Reality?

I have had several conversations recently which I think bring up this interesting question. My background in a lifetime of interest in philosophy and physics has sometimes caused me to over-assume that others are aware to some degree of how 19th century metaphysics of mechanics is still very dominate in most folks thinking. The metaphysics of mechanics assume an absolute time and space dominated by Cartesian metaphysics in which Renes’ Descartes writing in the 17th century declares, “I think, therefore I am”. At the very beginning of the Scientific Revolution, time and space was thought through the metaphor of a machine. This was no ‘spooky action at a distance’ but with Newton there soon would be ‘action at a distance’ with gravity and later with electromagnetism. The notion of aether had been around for a very long time before Newton but Newton would attribute gravity to a Christian God. Therefore, it was reasonable that shortly before the birth of Newton, Descartes in keeping with Latin Christianity would think of reality as subject and object. The subject was the domain of aether, God, mind, spirit, etc. and the object was matter, substance, body, just dead stuff. This metaphysic of absolute dualism would make the Mechanical Revolution of the 18th and 19th century possible. I use metaphysic from the Latin as the Christianized transformation from Aristotle’s works on ‘first philosophy’ or being as such. This metaphysic became ‘reality’. It became a largely unquestioned assumption which underscores more the impact and vast significance of history as human than any such thing as the ‘real’.

In the 19th century Hegel’s dialectic shattered with great genius and logic this dominate metaphysic. His impact was so devastating that reactions to Hegel spun off Karl Marx and communism (long before the Russian Revolution). Marx vigorously opposed the bourgeois Hegel in favor of material dialecticism. Hegel also spun off the British Empiricists and Adam Smith which became the foundation of capitalism. What was so devastating about Hegel’s observations? Hegel pointed out clearly that the dominate metaphysic of his day was an abstraction. It was not a matter denying the ‘reality’ of Cartesian dualism but of showing how it was an abstraction. Kant tells us,

For human reason, impelled by its own need rather than moved by the mere vanity of gaining a lot of knowledge, proceeds irresistibly to such questions as cannot be answered by any experiential use of reason and any principles taken from such use. And thus all human beings, once their reason has expanded to [the point where it can] speculate, actually have always had in them, and always will have in them, some metaphysics.

—Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

Isaac Topete writes,

Kant posits a two-fold constitution of knowledge by the two faculties of understanding and sensibility, and thereby, rejects the hypothesis of an intuitive understanding. With these two stances in mind, Hegel—within the Science of Logic—is critical of Kant insofar as he sees these above positions by Kant as detrimental to the project of idealism. Detrimental in the sense that Hegel thinks that Kant’s position is self-contradictory to the extent that concepts exist only in relation to appearance (i.e. illusory being) and, hence, concepts do not have any actual ‘truth’ to them insofar as they only apply haphazardly. So, from the perspective of Hegel, for Kant, concepts are derivative and hold no actual traction beyond that which appears. This, therefore, leads to Hegel’s attempt to critique and overcome these Kantian assumptions within the Science of Logic. (Topete)

Kant distinguished concepts from the ‘thing in itself’ or noumenon as opposed to phenomenon or manifestations – concepts. So, Kant was still to some extent working from Cartesian metaphysics. However, even Kant was already thinking clearly about the absolute abstractions of concepts and their inability to sustain any such thing as ‘reality’ without essentially being a metaphysic. Hegel shows through rigorous and extensive writings that Kant’s dualism resulting in the ‘thing in itself’ could not stand as Kant intended but even Kant’s unstated dualism was itself merely Concept. Hegel thinks Kant is still a victim of abstraction in that he could not break with some notion of reality which maintained the opposition of noumenon and phenomenon. This was the beginning of the end for Cartesian dualism over one hundred and fifty years ago.

Philosophy after Hegel broke into two main divisions: Continental and Analytic Philosophy. Continental meaning mainland Europe and Analytic meaning chiefly United States. However Analytic Philosophy grew out of the British Empiricist’s reaction to Hegel and the German Idealists. Both strains of philosophy have also traversed to widely varying degrees away from the mechanics of Cartesian reality.

Continental philosophy eloquently shows the break from the classical world to the modern world beginning with Existentialism and into phenomenology. Existentialism was focused on the matter of existing in a daily world and how to live without the metaphysics which made the classical world possible. Phenomenology was contemporaneous in the early 20th century with Einstein and Relativity. While not directly affecting each other they had some interesting parallels. Phenomenology started in earnest when Edmund Husserl began by focusing not on abstractions of metaphysics but how phenomenon shows itself from intentionality. As human we always encounter the world with intention which is not passive but active in determining what shows itself. His student Martin Heidegger also working from Husserl discusses two examples of how this works. Heidegger asks how do we experience spatiality? Do we encounter it as linear extension, as feet or inches from objects?

Actually, linear extension is an abstraction. It is a grid we impose on the world. Even Einstein tells us space is not linear but relative to time and frames of perspective. ‘Long’ and ‘short’ change relative to the speed of light. For Heidegger, we have lived-space. We bring close and distance ourselves from regions of contoured spatiality. While the glasses on our face may be much closer to us in linear extension our lived space is what our intentions are occupying in interests beyond and through our glasses. When we are in a class room there is a space between the teacher and the students which we experience as different regions where possibilities are delineated in advance. Lived space is not devoid of everything except dead extension. It is alive and has various qualities which inform us about ourselves, others and the world and how we act in various regionalities. Additionally, lived-time is not linear now moments. Lived time has a stretch of duration from a past through a present to a future. When we are happy ‘time flies’ and when we are bored or depressed time slows to a halt. Lived-time is a stretch of qualities and not just dead time. In terms of Einstein, time is relative to us, our frame of reference. Continental philosophy goes on to show how time and space are concretized by qualities of our experience of them.

Continental philosophy moved on in the mid to latter 20th century to structuralism and poststructuralism, modernism and post-modernism. These movement encompassed vast areas beyond philosophy including architecture, art, feminism, etc. These movements laid a foundation for a critique of abstractions from the classical and modern world and showed how their influences became occasions for violence and domination both to ourselves and our environment. Derrida showed through deconstruction how dominate, historic narratives must necessarily include their own antithesis and undoing. Fanaticism and terrorism result from their inevitable collapse. Furthermore, any form of structuralism is doomed to carry the seeds of its own demise. Derrida even goes so far as to say that “deconstruction deconstructs itself”. A case and point here is the interesting turns we find in Analytic Philosophy.

Analytic philosophy got its impetus from getting back to the senses in British Empiricism and not German Idealism. However, it quickly became entangled in linguistics, semantic and syntax. Once it emerged from the logic of language it took on the philosophy of language in a much more evasive role.

Those who use the term “philosophy of language” typically use it to refer to work within the field of Anglo-American analytical philosophy and its roots in German and Austrian philosophy of the early twentieth century. Many philosophers outside this tradition have views on the nature and use of language, and the border between “analytical” and “continental” philosophy is becoming more porous with time, but most who speak of this field are appealing to a specific set of traditions, canonical authors and methods. (PhiIn)

I am not as familiar with the Analytic tradition but I understand that sense perception has become inseparable from language games, context, intentions, intersubjectivity and histories. Rudolf Carnap even went so far as to substitute intention for sense. Contextuality is not something added on to reality but constituent of reality. The ‘Pittsburg Hegelians’ have even taken Analytic Philosophy back to Hegel in some important respects. Writing of Wilfred Sellars (an important advocate of the Pittsburg Hegelians) Willem A. deVries writes,

For both Hegel and Sellars, the sociality of thought entails also its historicity. We always operate with a less than ultimately satisfactory conceptual framework that is fated to be replaced by something more satisfactory, whether on the basis of conceptual or empirical considerations… Sellars denies both that there are ‘atoms’ of knowledge or meaning independent of their relation to other ‘pieces’ of knowledge or meaning, and that they are structured in a neat hierarchy rather than an interlocking (social) network. The determinate content of a thought or utterance is fixed by its position in the space of implications and employments available to the community in its language or conceptual framework. This kind of holism is congenial to Hegelian modes of thinking… Hegel is an epistemological realist: he rejects the idea that we do not (or are not even able to) know things as they are in themselves. Yet neither Hegel nor Sellars wants to reject altogether the distinction between phenomenal reality and things as they are in themselves. Sellars calls the distinction between the phenomenal and the real the distinction between the manifest and the scientific images of man in the world.

Hegel provides for numerous phenomenal realities related in ways that require a phenomenology to understand. It is not the distinction between phenomenon and reality itself that Hegel and Sellars attack, but the notion that it is absolute, establishing an unbridgeable divide.

McDowell, however, is concerned to defend our ‘openness to the layout of reality’ and seems not to take seriously the idea that we might have systematically false beliefs about the nature of things… The strategy, boiled down, is this: Kant’s critical philosophy is formulated in terms of basic dualisms, apriori/aposteriori, analytic/synthetic, receptivity/spontaneity, even empirical science/philosophy. Hegel insists that trapped in these dualisms Kant cannot satisfactorily explain human cognition or action. The gaps imposed by the assumed dualisms never get properly bridged. (deVries)

DeVries goes on to state that Sellars rejects the standard static interpretation given by Hegel in Hegel’s absolutisms. The important point here is that even the arch-typical school of sense empiricism has re-discovered, perhaps in some novel ways, the radical and complete loss of metaphysical ground which dominated the West from the Roman Empire to the 19th century.

Physics tells us of the absolute (if you will) relativity of ‘objects’ in which size and even temporal existence is contingent. In quantum mechanics it appears that even the notion of a particle is simply relative concentrations of energetic field densities more like micro and macro waves and currents in the ocean. Subatomic ‘particles’ with no mass (infinitesimal forces popping in and out of existence) energize these densities to create mass, gravity and their relative temporalities. This tells us that a ‘particle’ as a solid piece of matter is an abstraction which we have told ourselves through history based more on a quasi-scientific/theological notion of Newton’s absolute time and space. Newton told us gravity as action at a distance was God.

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle even tells us that there are aspects of phenomena which are impossible to reconcile (position and momentum of the wave-particle). This hits at the very heart of logic as built upon the principle of non-contradiction.

Schrödinger’s cat in the box thought experiment tells us the cat in the box can both be alive and dead at the same time. This is really an observation about the mathematics of superposition which is the basis of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics tells us about infinite possibilities which are actualized, made real, by observation. The immediate reaction of many including myself years ago was, ‘Are we saying that everything is subjective?’ This jump to subjectivity was the only possibility given to us by our metaphysics when confronted with this observation.

Einstein referred to entanglement as ‘spooky action at a distance’. Most quantum fields have a property called spin. These fields become constituents of many particles such as an electron. One characteristic of spin is called up and down. This is really how a magnetic field effects the orientation of the field. When particles such as an electron become entangled with each other they form a pair that can be separated by billions of light years and a magnetic field on one electron will instantly change the orientation of the other electron no matter what the distance between the two electrons. This seems to violate Einstein’s basic postulate which tells us nothing in the universe can move faster than the speed of light. This appears to violate a fundamental law of physics concerning locality. Einstein thought perhaps there were hidden variables which could explain this problem. One possibility could be that the universe is composed of more dimensions than four, three dimensions of space and one of time. Locality is intuitively thought as the ‘me’, the ‘I’ of ‘I think, therefore I am’. History has taught us that we are all absolute individuals. We have a certain sacred and protected domain which endows us with sacred, unalienable and unquestionable ‘rights’. We typically downplay the absolute of individuality with the equal and opposite other half of rights which is responsibility.

The notion of a multi-dimensional universe has contributed to many-worlds theory (which goes all the way back to the Greeks). String theory and parallel universes coupled with Schrödinger’s observation tell us that possibilities may be more than reality fictions but fundamentally comprise the ‘stuff’ of reality. What we thought as dead stuff, substance, may have much more to it that could make the boundaries of what is thought as living and dead a more complex problem.

Dark energy is thought to comprise 73% of all mass and energy in the universe. Additionally, dark matter is thought to comprise another 23% of the universe. The leaves 4% to comprise everything we see such as planets, stars and people. And, we really have no clue what it is. We know it must exist because we see its effects like wind in the trees. Dark matter and dark energy may solve a problem which resulted in perhaps Einstein’s greatest blunder, the cosmological constant. In short, Einstein inserted this ‘x’ factor into his equations to make relativity of time and space work with gravity. This made the universe static and kept the universe from flying apart. However, many subsequent discoveries have leads us to the dark halls of dark energy and matter as the reason why the universe does not fly apart. Without the gravitational effects of dark matter and energy we would have to accept the almost theological explanation of Einstein’s ‘x’ factor. The mystery of what dark matter and energy tell us is to buckle up, we really know very little about reality.

What is the real? It is neither subjective nor objective but those tired old metaphysics should tell us more about who we are that what reality is. We have inherited ‘filters’ which help us make sense of the world in language and history. Language and history are as much a part of our anatomy as our heart is. The ‘real’ is not some absolute, everlasting reality apart from us to which we are enslaved but essential to us in an ‘essentially’ indeterminate way. Philosophy and physics have come together to show us that our ability to abstract not only is the ‘real’ but somehow indeterminately determinate of what gets taken up as ‘real’.

To speak of the ‘real’ in this way is not to deny the ‘real’ but to put the ‘real’ in a more nuanced and less abstract way than historic embodiments which grossly oversimplify and distort ‘isness’. These distortions lead to the worst of human behavior as they champion the heroic ‘defender of the faith’ at any horrific cost. The threats to reality are manufactured inherent in ‘reality’ not imputed from the unrepentant. We do not really know to what extent our forceful expectations of ‘reality’ force the reality we ultimately find. It may be that the worlds we create become our tomb and not the occasion for an ‘other’, infinitely removed from our metaphysical prisons.

Creation did not happen from our reality but from a reality we never knew. Language was not our invention after birth but in some indeterminate and historic fashion constitutes who we are, what ‘reality’ is or isn’t. It constitutes a past that never was our personal past but somehow participates intimately in our moments and after-moments of creation, of birth. To think of ourselves as an absolute individual is perhaps the momentous sin of ‘reality’ which ignores the grace which makes us possible. We owe a debt to creation, the moment of birth, that gives gifts and makes possible language and meaning. It is up to us as to how we embody these gifts with wistful arrogance or humble gratitude. The other, the he or the she, is not diminished or captured by our petty judgements of them. They are as much the miracle of who we are as language, as ‘reality, as the indeterminate infinity which we choose together and apart. The possibility of ethics is a choice, perhaps the only choice we can make. Over one hundred and fifty years we have traversed from ‘I think, therefore I am’ to ‘We think, therefore we are’. We can welcome this transformation or die fighting it but who is to say if we meet our apocryphal demise, another unaccounted, unrecognized moment of creation will not create infinites of ‘realities’ which once again ask for gratitude, grace and ethical desire for what we know not.

Works Cited

(n.d.). Philosophy of Language. Retrieved from https://iep.utm.edu/lang-phi/

deVries, W. A. (n.d.). Hegel’s Revival in Analytic Philosophy. Retrieved from https://mypages.unh.edu/sites/default/files/wad/files/devries_hegels_revival_in_analytic_philosophy.pdf

Topete, I. (n.d.). Idealism from Kant to Hegel. Retrieved from https://www.csustan.edu/sites/default/files/groups/University%20Honors%20Program/Journals/isaac_topete.pdf

Thoughts on the Afterlife and Other Tales

Part of the beauty of life is not knowing. ‘Knowing’ has a tendency for reduction. It can dampen basic questions of existence. It can provide an answer, at least a contingent answer. It has the allure of solace, comfort, and security. While it does dampen the angst of existence, it also dampens the intensity of passions; of beauty, wonder and awe. It also squelches creativity. Creativity is the catalyst which made science and our present lived-world possible. In religion, the lack of distance from God undermines the passion of the Holy. It gives ready-made answers in lieu of faith. God talks to devotees in regular and daily conversation which they all too happy to tell us about. Whatever happened to the passion of faith was a problem Kierkegaard brought to our attention. Kierkegaard tells us that we do not need faith to believe that 1 + 1 = 2. We have no real stake in the daily and absolute knowledge of a God we know and understand with absolute certainty. That is not faith but the mechanical garbs of science without the objectivity of facts and instead, the subjective experience of knowledge which has become an unfalsifiable fact, which is intolerant of doubt. What we have in this case is the inception of extremism that can solipsistically know no other. What this really brings to the surface is a uniquely historic, 19th century, worldview in which absolute time and space came into fruition with the Industrial Revolution. This is why religious modernity and capitalism have become cozy bedfellows and why anything such as a ‘Trump’ was made possible in the vestibules of faith. All the resentment in religious, reaction to enlightenment is,

“Wokeism makes you lose, ruins your mind, and ruins you as a person”

which Trump tells us is why the US soccer team lost. Enlightenment as the result of unbridled positivism in an empirical reality of objective science has in religious modernity become a battle cry for God-Enlightenment. Science is no longer needed; education has become a vehicle for radical “Wokeism” in which one knows all especially about “two Corinthians”.

The path of religion in post modernity is riddled with extremism, danger and desperation. Kierkegaardian passion of faith has been replaced with social media’s fanaticism to indoctrinate and dominate more and more adherents to ‘Sleepism’. Anti-enlightenment is the new battle cry of those who will not settle for anything less than total and absolute submission to the social, economic, political, moral theory of everything which grows as a cancer in the rapidly evolving dogma of religious groupthink. Religion has been replaced with Mephistopheles’ ‘hell of a deal’ when you accept Jesus Christ as you Lord and Savior. You are welcomed into the on-line group where you all become one in everything you always wanted to know about; everything with rapidly evolving answers of salvation, politics, morality, economics, “Wokeism” in general. In all this we see a radical conformism which consumes without cessation. Has this become the actualization of Nietzsche’s “last man”? What we see in ‘sleepism’ is lucid dreaming which can only end in nightmare. The looming problem of ‘sleepism’ that it robs us of what made religions a reality in the first place. Religion was not born of ready-made answers although, like manna from heaven which was miraculous edible substance, decays in institutionalism and even faster now with virtual reality. Could it be that ‘mana’ has been replaced with manna:

Mana is the spiritual life force energy or healing power that permeates the universe, in the culture of the Melanesians and Polynesians. Anyone or anything can have mana. It is a cultivation or possession of energy and power, rather than being a source of power. It is an intentional force. (Wikipedia)

In the interest of provoking some whimsical and perhaps more fresh questioning on the topic of an afterlife, I would like to attempt a thought experiment.

We know that the universe has memory to an exquisite degree. Scientists call this information theory. Entropy is key to information theory as it is a predictor of more and less information. Physicists have traditionally shown that information is encoded in the most intricate and exquisite workings of the universe. Stephen Hawking went against this knowledge base in showing that information might be lost in the long death of a black hole which is called “Hawking radiation”. A long and intense battle with physicists Leonard Susskind and Gerald t’ Hooft ensued in 2008 and ended in the “Susskind quashes Hawking in quarrel over quantum quandary” with the holographic principle. The holographic principle shows that radiation receives quantum corrections which encodes information about the black hole’s interior and thus retains information. Later theories offer further alternatives to the loss of information in non-unitary time evolution. The point here is that the universe has an exquisite memory. Even if other universes exist with vastly different ‘laws of physics’ (coined and piggybacked in Latin Christianity as ‘natural laws’), information theory is still an absolute necessity as only the Hesiodic theory of chaos would be the absolute loss of information…more about this later. Information is also clearly exhibited in chromosomes and the evolution of species. Instinct is also another evident form of information theory.

If the universe has memory in the form of information, it is not hard to understand that information theory is the retention of memory. While I personally am 50/50 on the certain knowledge that an afterlife is possible, I do find that apart from religious concerns, it is not hard to make the uncertain leap from information theory to a thought that information could be retained in the form of memory in other realities. I think this not so much from a personal desire for any kind of ‘proof of an afterlife’ but more from a non-mechanical, 19th century, basis which finds truly astounding and quite unmoored observations in the recent century of Continental and Analytic philosophy trends. Even in the 19th century, in Hegel there is a foreshadowing of information theory in his notion of Concept. Metaphysics, a Latin term not ancient Greek, is a tradition which counters what philosophy and science is telling us about what we [metaphysically] ‘think’ as reality. The question of objectivity and subjectivity are both brought into fundamental question. This Cartesian dilemma which encapsulates much of modernity in historic certainty has truly been overcome in recent trends in philosophy and physics. We see this most clearly in Phenomenology, Structures and History of Language and physics starting in the early 20th century in Einstein’s Relativity Principle. What all this is telling us is that what we think we know is more about who we are and less about reality.

I would not be surprised in the least if there was an ‘afterlife’ which retained the intimate information of what we think as ‘my life’ or ‘our history’. Knowledge does not have to be Blanchot’s unescapable impossibility of death or Sartre’s horror of No-Exit. Neither does it have to be absolute extinction into the impossibility of nothingness. Knowledge itself may be a clue, a bread crumb, to a retention intrinsic to the universe. In Hegelian terms perhaps the universe itself is a retreat from what he deems ‘Absolute Concept’. The larger point for the purposes of this post is to attempt to unmoor ourselves from the supposed history we think as reality and point to a confluence of fundamental inquiries which do not ‘add’ to our current understanding of reality but actually and radically transform our ‘sleepism’ into a ‘wokeism’ which cannot be escaped except into deeper sleep. In sleep we find the brain escapes into non-sense. Perhaps the brain’s cure of too much apparent sense is to counter with a truth of its own; to what may point to an other, a radical other from all our Platonic Forms which history has made static and a kind of living death. Levinas called this static-sation, totalization. Totalization has been saturated through and through with the notion of being, what philosophers call ontology (the study of being). Totalization reduces absolutely. It denies the face in Levinas’ terms. The face absolutely counters the concretization in which sleep-fully determines who and what the other is. Truly totalization is Blanchot’s death of language, Satres No-Exit, and Levinas’ “there-is” in which the ‘I’ entombs itself as if to find relief from the radical alterity of the other. We have devised intricate, historic, linguistic escapisms to give us certainty or apparent certainty in the face of radical otherness. Our dreams tells us that our waking life is fundamentally contradictory and inadequate. Hesiod tells us that chaos or more precisely the ‘yawning gap’ is the face of the-an-other which we tirelessly want to retreat from. We have fashioned for ourselves an oasis in the chaos which we think is dry land but firmly rooted in sub-atomic particles popping in and out of existence in which the vastness a subatomic space implies infinitely more space than matter (if there really is such a thing) – gap, is the root of our realities and incessant daydreams. Perhaps waking up is discovering what we do not know, what inspires creativity and wonder, is vastly more meaningful than what we think we know. All the while an other, the other, which requires ethics, decision, to counter the incredible smallness of our certainties; to actively hold open the beauty of infinities which we behold every day in waking sleep.

On Death

Death is not something that happens at the end of life. As Blanchot mentions in the quote at the end of my recent post,

As long as I live, I am a mortal man, but when I die, by ceasing to be man I also cease to be mortal, I am no longer capable of dying, and my impending death horrifies me because I see it as it is: no longer death, but the impossibility of dying…. I have no relationship with it, it is that toward which I cannot go, for in it I do not die, I have fallen from the power to die. In it they die; they do not cease, and they do not finish dying ― Maurice Blanchot, Literature and the Right to Death.

The only way I experience death is through life. Death is strictly a phenomenon of life. The fear of death is a fear of life as life and death are inseparable. The death of my son in 2017 is not ‘his’ death. He is not experiencing death as he is not mortal any longer; not living. Chris is not human now. He was a beautiful, young, and amazing human but now his humanity is in my heart, my memory, my pain. This is where he dwells now in me and those who knew and loved him. The pain of death is the pain of living. It is not optional but essential. The question remains, how shall we live in the essence of death?

Death is a zenith. It is where life disappears into the infinity of horizon. It is not the horror of hell or bliss of heaven. It is the gate of the infinite. Mortality cannot pass through its gate. The absolute fluidity of this universe breaks upon the shores of death in which there is no return. Does death start where it began as if some universal law of physics requires it to do so?

What we know of physics is that there is a vast multitude of possible and actual physics. The laws of physics in our current universe are themselves a zenith of time and place. The ‘laws’ are an invention of circumstance. According to physicists, they were radically different at the beginning. If not for slightly more matter than antimatter after the ‘big bang’ or the ‘big bounce’ we would not be here at all. As to the question of what’s ‘outside’ the universe we are told two things: 1) Outside is a conventional notion we have derived from this time, this space, this circumstance and says nothing about this mythical notion of an outside to the universe, 2) If there are other universes, they have radically different physics. They would have absolutely no necessity placed on them to mimic our space/time physics in this singular moment of our circumstance.

So, this tells us that even this moment we call ‘life’ is itself a zenith caught on the brink of infinity. We stare infinity in the face every moment of our existence and found or are found by language as history to pacify our delusions of security as we draw in the breath of ‘I’. We forget the boundless ocean of eternity we stand on the shores of. We rationalize and sanctify and flee in the face of this awe and beauty and wonder which is the essence which can no longer be thought as ‘essence’. There is no ground beneath our feet only instantaneous, massless ‘particles’ better thought as infinitesimal force fields which pop in and out of existence and declare, “I am”. What we need in the face of eternity is perspective not absolute determinations.

We breath ‘we’ in this eternity of temporality. Sure, we have individual bodies which are really a communion of organism, cells, molecules, atoms, infinitesimals popping in and out of existence but somehow organizing themselves as an illusion of a whole, a body, my body. We communicate with language which we did not invent but in some undeciphered way acquired from a history we never knew or experienced. ‘Understanding’ is not a something but an acquisition of a ‘not me’, a gift given without merit or even existence as ‘mine’. We think ‘me’ from ‘we’. The ‘me’ that protests, that complains, that judges is a construction of the ‘we’ of language which speaks and has spoken and will speak with and without me, my existence. In all our languages we face plurality of other languages. Not just human but also animal languages, plant languages (actual science behind this). Existence is language. It is communication. It is the physics of interaction. It is the boundary conditions. It is the face. The face is not just a ‘presentation’, a presence. It is an absence of infinity which cannot present itself except as the boundary conditions of this moment, this interaction, this ‘idea’ of reality.

‘Idea’ informs us of notions which give reason, promise meaning, promotes sense and sensible. We even have the notion of ‘absolute’ which finds no home in infinity except as ‘idea’. What is more, ‘idea’ is what Hegel believes is all that faces us. There is no exterior ‘thing’ out there. The ‘thing’ is the idea. There is never a ‘thing’ without an idea. So, in Hegel’s estimation idea ‘is’ infinity and finite, it is ‘isness’. The face of which I spoke is the idea of face, nothing more, nothing less. For Hegel, the ‘notion’ exceeds other notions as being and nothingness and finds place as ‘Concept’. Concept is the embodiment of place, of divine, of me and us, of face. The other and the same cannot remain as they are but must be taken up by the necessity of self-consciousness. There is no self as a notion without an other as a counter notion. The same and the other are the necessity of a self, a me. Even the notion of space and time is a requirement of particularity. We must be a ‘we’ by necessity of Concept not by some exteriority which makes it so. For Hegel this does not do violence to the other as another person for example but requires us to look further into exactly what we are talking about and referring to; to fundamentally question the very fabric of isness and how Concept becomes the necessity of isness.

This leads us to choice. There is no way in my estimation to prove Hegel wrong. He may well be correct that Concept is essentially ‘is’. For Hegel this does not end in some kind of essential narcissism but in a foundation from any such thing as narcissism. Hegel is not bestowing sainthood on individualism and such notions as chest-beating ‘capitalism’. He is certainly providing a foundation for their existence, for existence itself, but not some modern right-wing notion of ultra-conservatism. In any case, there is a question Hegel poses which must be faced, a choice must be made.

I started this post with the notion of infinity. In due course, we have found that infinity and finitude may have and certainly, in some yet undetermined sense, has a basis in Concept but is that the end of the story (or perhaps another beginning)? Even if Hegel is correct, is there an ethical necessity placed on us to face the other, to face my son without Hegel’s face? Are we to abandon ourselves to the necessity of Concept and if so, how does that effect my orientation to the other, to the infinity of the face, to the requirement of my son’s life and living death which I must endure? Even more, what of the suffering of the other? How shall I face this lifetime of suffering which I must endure, my suffering and the suffering of the other? Should I find some kind of solace in the absolute fact of ‘Concept’? Should I think infinity as a necessary condition of finitude? Have I violated something other than my own biases and misunderstandings of Concept? Isn’t ethics just another requirement of Concept, of self-consciousness?

This is where choice determines eternity. I have no basis external to the requirements of self-consciousness for choosing an exteriority which cannot be thought only or more precisely determined by thought. I can choose to found self on Concept and call that ‘isness’. I probably have more reason to do so than not in Hegelian terms. I see many folks who use Hegel (and less intellectual achievements) as a kind of license to justify whatever they want to do to whomever they want to do it to. Perhaps, Hegel’s philosophy is not ready for mere mortals or vice versa. However, I do have to live in the face of the absolute, unsubstantiated abyss of existence. I have to wake up every day with my death, the death of my son, the death of innocence from bigotry, greed, injustice and I have to face it on an ongoing basis without any justification for why it must be so from Concept. In all this I must act and I must make choices not because I am that Concept but because I suffer and I am with those that suffer. My choice is to be self-determined or, without necessity, to heed the cry of the other.

To conclude, I would like to add a bit of speculation, highly speculative. We see in nature and physics (whether it is pure Concept or not) a return to regularity, order, instinct; to repetition in some degree. We did not proceed from Concept to birth but from nothingness (certainly with regard to consciousness) to birth. Somehow, I and we popped into existence. Is there a regularity in ‘popping into existence’? Perhaps, we don’t know. However, one thing we do know is that we did become but from what? We can call this Concept and satisfy the need for origin. However, I prefer to leave that to what Hesiod referred to as chaos (really the yawning gap). There is a gap of not knowing which we can choose to reserve. There is also the observation that phusis or physics, biology, ‘isness’ might like to repeat itself. We are gift standing from infinite abyss facing eternity with language and consciousness that is not our own. Who is to say that that gift cannot find repetition, increasing wisdom and another moment when what I did, how I acted in the face of the other; who is to say it is not the foundation for something I know not what…choose wisely.

Myths Exposed: President Obama is Responsible for Historic U.S. Federal Debt and Spending Levels

The far right in the U.S. has been desperately trying to convince the electorate that President Obama is spending the U.S. into oblivion and driving up the debt.

Here are the facts…

The Washington Post and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities compiled this chart:

This chart shows the debt directly attributed to President Bush and President Obama. Much of the recent debt came from the Bush tax cuts.

Let’s look into the debt further…

This blog post states the following:

During 20 years of the presidencies of Reagan, Bush I and Bush II, the federal debt as a share of GDP increased by a cumulative 43% of GDP. During the 4 first years of the Obama presidency, it has increased by 36% of GDP.

This is how the Presidents rank in terms of development of the Debt/GDP ratio per year of tenure:

1. Clinton -1% per year
2. Reagan, Bush II: +2% per year
3. Bush I: +3% per year
4. Obama: +9% per year.

This following data comes from this (xls) Office of Management and Budget (OMB) source:

I re-plotted the data since, you could say, I have trust issues on the internet. It is similar to the data in the post.

The following is “The Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2012 to 2022” from the Congressional Budget Office.

What the blog post above did not state is that the historical years since the Bush tax cuts and the recession that started prior to President Obama taking office, have been the major contributors to the rise in spending as a percentage of GDP. Also, the future years the OMB graph shows is a worst case scenario that includes the CBO Alternative Fiscal Scenario which assumes the Bush tax cuts are extended. President Obama did not create the recession, he inherited it. The Bush tax cuts were not enacted into law by President Obama. It is a lie to blame the recession and the Bush tax cuts on President Obama.

Let’s dig down a little more.

This following is historical and projected outlays from The Office and Management Budget by agency. Outlays are the total amount of money spent including authority from prior years that obligates outlays in the current year. The source data from the following charts comes from this (xls) OMB data. The data lines and the legend descriptions are in the same order. My graphics file can be downloaded here (xls). This chart shows that the Federal debt has accumulated from previous years going back to 1962.

OUTLAYS BY AGENCY: 1962–2017

(in millions of dollars)

 

This chart shows that the Federal debt has accumulated from previous years going back to 2000.

OUTLAYS BY AGENCY: 2000–2017

(in millions of dollars)

There is no huge increase in spending starting in 2009 when President Obama was inaugurated. The estimates include the Affordable Care Act. The chart shows that all the major increases in spending started ramping up more quickly in the decade of 2000. The spending is chiefly in the Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration (off-budget), Department of Treasury and the Department of Defense (Military Programs). The Department of Health and Human Services increase comes chiefly from the middle class falling closer towards the federal poverty level as discussed below in more detail. The Social Security Administration increases have to do with baby boomers getting older and rising health care costs. The Treasury Department increases come basically from paying interest on the national debt by financing it with government bonds. The Department of Defense increases have to do with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the costs of gearing up for war. It is interesting to note that the U.S. spends 41% of the world’s total military expenditure. China, the next highest in the world’s total military expenditure, only spends 8.2% (see this).

The baseline scenario in the graph below shows current law and the effect of continuing certain programs that are scheduled to expire.

 

 

If you really want to raise the debt go ahead and repeal the Affordable Care Act according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS) according to this publication:

 

Mandatory budget items are not optional year to year. It takes an act of Congress to change a mandated budget item. These requirements were made by Republicans and Democrats over the years. President Obama did not create the vast majority of mandatory budget requirements. The Affordable Care Act is mandatory but as already shown will lower the debt unless it is repealed. Discretionary budget items are voted on each year by Congress in 13 appropriations bills. Here is a chart showing mandatory and discretionary spending for 2010:

Mandatory and discretionary budget items are further explained in this:

Discretionary spending is provided in, and controlled by, annual appropriations acts, which fund many of the routine activities commonly associated with such federal government functions as running executive branch agencies, congressional offices and agencies, and international operations of the government.1 Essentially all spending on federal wages and salaries is discretionary.

Discretionary spending is often contrasted with mandatory, or direct, spending. Mandatory spending includes federal spending on entitlement programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the Food Stamps program), and other spending controlled by laws other than appropriation acts.3 Spending levels for mandatory programs are generally controlled by eligibility criteria and size of the eligible population.

 

Mandatory budget items have gone up for some time now as this chart shows:

 

The recession which certainly preceded President Obama has resulted in many more people qualifying for entitlement benefits. President Obama did not change qualification requirements for these programs. As more people fell towards the federal poverty level, more people have received government benefits. This is shown by the Census Bureau and an article in the Wall Street Journal:

 

All of this data supports the conclusion that President Obama has acted very responsibly in view of the economic catastrophe he inherited. The far right is spinning yet another myth.

Links for further reading:

http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2012/05/26/number-of-the-week-half-of-u-s-lives-in-household-getting-benefits/

http://useconomy.about.com/od/fiscalpolicy/p/Mandatory.htm

http://useconomy.about.com/od/fiscalpolicy/tp/US_Federal_Budget.htm

http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/historicals/

http://useconomy.about.com/od/healthcarereform/f/Patient-Affordable-Care-Act.htm

http://useconomy.about.com/od/candidatesandtheeconomy/f/Healthcare_Reform_and_Budget.htm

http://super-economy.blogspot.com.au/2011/08/obama-hockey-stick.html

http://super-economy.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/american-federal-debt.html

http://www.cbo.gov/publication/21203

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/adding-to-the-deficit-bush-vs-obama/2012/01/31/gIQAQ0kFgQ_graphic.html

http://www.cbpp.org/research/index.cfm?fa=topic&id=121

http://www.gao.gov/special.pubs/longterm/pdfs/spring2012_update_slides.pdf

http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/ftpdocs/108xx/doc10871/01-26-outlook.pdf

http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/newsgraphics/2011/0119-budget/index.html

http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Stories/2011/February/14/President-Obama-Proposed-HHS-Budget-2012.aspx

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2012/assets/health.pdf

http://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Research/ActuarialStudies/downloads/HR3200_2009-10-21.pdf

http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3450

http://www.cbp.org/documents/120224_CalWORKs_KeyFacts.pdf

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/us/welfare-limits-left-poor-adrift-as-recession-hit.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.kff.org/medicaid/upload/7985.pdf

http://www.ssa.gov/history/BudgetTreatment.html

http://www.epi.org/publication/bp156/

http://www.socialsecurity.gov/history/InternetMyths.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/13/us/politics/13health.html

http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/year_spending_2012USbn_13bs1n_3031#usgs302

http://www.globalissues.org/article/75/world-military-spending

Apple: Price Fixing and Collusion

In this essay I discussed how price fixing and collusion occurs regularly in the ‘free market’. Here is another recent example of what I discussed.

Here are some lowlights from the article in the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. accused Apple Inc. AAPL +0.41%and five of the nation’s largest publishers Wednesday of conspiring to raise e-book prices, in a case that could radically reorder the fast-growing business.

In a civil antitrust lawsuit, the Justice Department alleged that CEOs of the publishing companies met regularly in private dining rooms of upscale Manhattan restaurants to discuss how to respond to steep discounting of their e-books by Amazon.com Inc., AMZN +1.40%a practice they disliked. The executives also called and emailed each other to craft a solution to what one of them called “the wretched $9.99 price point,” the suit said.

The five publishers and Apple hatched an arrangement that lifted the price of many best-selling e-books to $12.99 or $14.99, according to the suit. The publishers then banded together to impose that model on Amazon, the government alleged.

As a result of this alleged conspiracy, we believe that consumers paid millions of dollars more for some of the most popular titles,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.

Three of the publishers settled with the Justice Department, agreeing to let Amazon and other retailers resume discounting of e-books. Settlement of a separate suit filed by 16 states and U.S. territories could lead to tens of millions of dollars in restitution to consumers who bought e-books at the higher prices.

A group of 16 states, led by Connecticut and Texas, filed their own suit Wednesday against Apple, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster. The states said they have reached tentative settlement agreements with HarperCollins and Hachette. Those two publishers have agreed in principle to provide more than $51 million in restitution to e-book buyers, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said.

My working conclusion is that this happens much more often than many folks think that it does. I base this on my own anecdotal experience of decades in business and management and on cases already mentioned in which I cited specific examples. It may sound trite and clique but I know from personal experience that these guys at the top have huge, inflated egos and they do work out these types of situations in their country clubs and on their golf courses. The Justice Department only pursues a small percentage of these types of activities.

As per Jeff’s recent comment, pure capitalism or socialism does not exist. I have pointed this out in this essay. To think of them as polar opposites in practice is a bit naïve in my opinion. We are individuals and collectivities and as such incorporate both of these components in our politics and economics.

I have no problem per se with selfishness or self-interest. If selfishness or self-interest is given carte blanche in economics the rich and powerful will always make sure that they stay that way at the expense of those that are not. If capitalism is the unregulated or nominally regulated practice of selfishness then what is the practical difference between it and oligarchy, dictatorship, fascism (statist), communism or any system that rules from the top by the powerful?

If practical capitalism is to have a form of democracy (as in the ideal of competition) then the best real hope for impartial rules on how the game is played can only be made by government. To the degree that the rules allow the process to be more competitive is the same degree that capitalism approximates its ideal. As Jeff points out, to the degree that corporatism (crony capitalism) determine the rules is, in my opinion, one factor in turning capitalism into simply another name for the powerful consolidating their hold on power. I have also pointed out that this happens with or without government involvement.

The idea that the government is solely or primarily the culprit may have emotional appeal to some but as far as I can tell is not factual. In a democracy we get the government we deserve. If we prohibit government from intervening in the market with regulation we are effectively handing the market over to the rich and powerful. As Jeff points out they will try to use the government to protect their power but as I have pointed out they will not stop there. They have many tactics for staying in power (as I previously illustrated) and are not above using them.

Those that would have the government stay out of market regulation are effectively playing into the hands of the rich and powerful and doing exactly what they claim the government is doing in crony capitalism – making it easier for the rich and powerful to maintain their hold on power. To ‘hope’ that competition will reign in unregulated or nominally regulated capitalism appears to me to be more like a religious ideal than a realistic practicality. Government should be in the active business of making competition in capitalism real and effective, offering constraints to the monopolizing tendencies of power. Our job as voters is to elect politicians that produce results toward this end and fire those that make big business the real constituents that they serve. If we put the fox in charge of the hen house we should not be surprised when all the hens get eaten.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Rather often I feel like listening to the Republicans is like living in Alice’s wonderland. Here are some examples:

Who created more debt Bush or Obama?

The opiate truth: Obama increased the national debt vastly more than any other president.

The non-opiate truth:

The Graph – Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is non-partisan.

Here are the latest absolute numbers on the debt increase between President Bush and President Obama:

Bush debt increase: 85%

Obama debt increase: 44%

From January 20, 2001 to January 20, 2009 the national debt increased from $5,727,776,738,304.64 to $10,626,877,048,913.08. For those that still believe in arithmetic this is an 85% increase in the debt over the Bush administration’s term ((10,626,877,048,913.08 / 5,727,776,738,304.64) * 100) = 185% or an 85% increase).

From January 20, 2009 to February 3, 2012 the national debt increased from $10,626,877,048,913.08 to $15,330,778,119,850.60. This is a 44% increase in debt over President Obama’s term ((15,330,778,119,850.60 / 10,626,877,048,913.08) * 100) = 143% or a 43% increase).

Don’t take my word for it, check it out on the US Treasury Department site.

Additionally, there is the discretionary and non-discretionary part of the budget. Discretionary spending is annual spending that the congress and the president have to deal with every year; non-discretionary is mandatory, multiyear spending that has already been committed to by previous administrations (i.e., like food stamps calculated to poverty levels). The non-discretionary portion of the 2011 budget is 59%; the discretionary is 34% (reference).

What Republicans call Obama-Care has not kicked in yet but the GAO wrote a report that I have read from start to finish that claims it will take 100 billion off the budget over 10 years as compared to doing nothing (can’t cherry pick GAO reports in my opinion – ask my wife – she retired from the GAO). However, the 1 trillion dollars over 10 years of Medicare Part D that was passed by a Republican president (Bush) and Republican dominated House and Senate has already started to hit non-discretionary spending. The non-discretionary part of the budget makes up the lion’s share of the increased debt spending that you see at the end of the Bush administration. Part is this has to do with the wars, the national disasters (FEMA) and more importantly the recession. As more people go into poverty entitlements that were all previously linked to poverty numbers kick in with much higher amounts of spending – nothing to do with President Obama. This will be discussed more later in this essay.

Who created more unemployment Bush or Obama?

The opiate truth: Obama increased unemployment vastly more than any other president.

The non-opiate truth:

Bush increase in unemployment: 86%

Obama increase in unemployment: 6%

When Bush took office on January 20, 2001, the national unemployment rate was 4.2%. When he left office on January 20, 2009 and President Obama took office the national unemployment rate was 7.8%

The current unemployment rate as of January 6, 2012 is 8.3%

Doing the math, the increase during the Bush administration was (7.8 / 4.2) * 100 = 186% or a 86% increase in unemployment. For the Obama administration the math is (8.3 / 7.8) * 100 = 106% or a 6% increase in unemployment.

* Note: I have revised this based the January, 2009 unemployment number of 7.8%. President Obama took office January, 20, 2009. From the graph below you can see that the unemployment rate exploded just as he got into office. I think this explosion arguably was not due to anything President Obama did in his first few months (just 4 months later the rate was 9.4%) as the national unemployment rate does not turn on the dime but I will give the detractors the benefit of the doubt. There is still a huge difference in 86% (Bush) and 6% (Obama). If the numbers from 4 months after President Obama took office are used they work out to:

Bush administration increase in unemployment: 124%

Obama administration decrease in unemployment: 12%

Transition Date: End of May, 2009

Given this, the difference would be a 136% increase in unemployment during the Bush administration over the Obama administration.


Reference

How do Americans feel about abortion?

The opiate truth: The majority of Americans are against abortion.

The non-opiate truth:

Entitlement programs?

The opiate truth: Entitlement programs do not do anything but waste taxpayers money.

The non-opiate truth:

President Obama and food stamps?

The opiate truth: President Obama is the ‘food stamp president’.

The non-opiate truth:

Food stamps have been tied to poverty levels for decades. President Obama has nothing to do with the automatic levels that kicked in due to the recession that started in the Bush administration.

Additionally, many of the entitlement programs are tied by law to the poverty line and/or adjusted income.

Introduction to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program

Interesting chart…

Even with all the additional expenses of non-discretionary entitlement programs kicking in during the Obama administration, the rate of increase of the national debt is still less that the Bush administration.

This is a graph of the debt since 1950 (click on the graphs to make them larger)…


This is the rate of increase of the debt since 1950…


Please note the difference from 2001 to 2009 and 2009 to 2011. This is Bush vs Obama

Note: The graph only uses full fiscal year data. The last fiscal year ended was September 30, 2011

Here is the data and links to the Treasury Department to verify the numbers…


The links shown above are:
Historical Debt Outstanding – Annual 2000 – 2010
Historical Debt Outstanding – Annual 1950 – 1999
The Debt to the Penny and Who Holds It
Debt Position and Activity Report
The Debt to the Penny and Who Holds It (type in Enter Beginning Date: 9/30/11)

Please, don’t vote and do drugs!

The Free Market: Capitalism and Socialism

Adam Smith, an Enlightenment thinker, thought of humans as fundamentally self-interested as contrasted to Thomas Hobbes.  Hobbes thought that selfishness worked as a kind of glue for society.  His idea was that people are selfish; fundamentally concerned only with themselves.  This meant that each person wanted to thrive based on their personal wants and needs without regard to ideals like the greater good or the plight of others.  However, as selfish people, they want security at any cost.  In order to obtain security, people subject themselves to the state, to laws.  While individuals would freely rape, murder and plunder without concerns of conscience they do not because they do not want to be on the receiving end of their brutish desires.  The free subjugation of themselves to the state is called ‘social contract’ theory.

Adam Smith lived hundreds of years after Hobbes.  He was also a social contract theorist.  He was concerned with how self-interested individuals create commerce.  In “The Wealth of Nations”, Smith writes:

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”[1]

He thought that when self-interested individuals compete, the process of competition resulted in the most optimum allocation of resources because competition resulted in the lowest average cost of goods or services.  In this way, he thought that self-interest served the greater good.  He thought that any time the government or monopolies intervened in this process it prevented the process from working as it should and kept costs artificially higher thus interrupting the normative operation of a free market.  It is important to note that Adam Smith’s ideals of the free market only work on the basis of competing individuals not market monopolizing corporations or governments.  Market monopolies interfere with competition and defy the ideal of a free market.

“The price of monopoly is upon every occasion the highest that can be got. The natural price, or the price of free competition, on the contrary, is the lowest which can be taken, not upon every occasion indeed, but for any considerable time together. The one is…the highest which can be squeezed out of the buyers…The other is the lowest which the sellers can commonly afford to take…. The monopoly price is most often sustained by “the exclusive privileges of corporations (65)”[2]

“Smith uses the terms “self-interest” and “private interests” always in opposite ways. For former, his most famous statements are “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest (20),” and, “by directing [his] industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention (351)”. Concerning “private interests,” Smith is not so sanguine; these private interests constitute the “spirit of monopoly (371)” which Smith so much detests. It should be clear by now, from what has been said before, that Smith is well aware of the dangers of avarice and especially so since the interests of capitalists diverge, in Smith’s view, so much from the interests of the general public.”[3]

Capitalism (a term he never uses), as Adam Smith thought, is depended on private property and private ownership.  The self-interested individual had complete legal and sole rights to their property.  Without private property there would be no motivation for individuals to compete and increase their property ownership, their wealth.

Socialism believes that individual interests are served better when they cooperate with each other and not compete.  Socialism believes in social ownership.  In effect, this means workers own production (also called the means of production).  Production is not owned privately but by a group.  There are many forms of socialism.  Some forms of socialism believe that the workers in a factory own the factory, but everything else in the economy is ‘free market’ and private property.  There is no government ownership is this type of socialism.  Some forms of socialism simply pay a social dividend based on factory profitability.  Some forms of socialism nationalize factories but still maintain private ownership.  Social democrats use a progressive tax system and government regulation within a private market economy.  There are also anarchist and libertarian forms of socialism.  Socialists tend to believe that when the individual is elevated above the group, normal human interaction and group identities tend to get ignored.  Language[4] is a perfect example of how humans are fundamentally collective.  People do not have ‘private languages’.  Communication is only possible by sharing a language that we individually did not make up.  People are not hermits.  We form governments, churches and social communities. 

“As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce. The wood of the forest, the grass of the field, and all the natural fruits of the earth, which, when land was in common, cost the laborer only the trouble of gathering them, come, even to him, to have an additional price fixed upon them. He must then pay for the license to gather them; and must give up to the landlord a portion of what his labor either collects or produces. This portion, or, what comes to the same thing, the price of this portion, constitutes the rent of land, and in the price of the greater part of commodities makes a third component part.

The real value of all the different component parts of price, it must be observed, is measured by the quantity of labor which they can, each of them, purchase or command. Labor measures the value not only of that part of price which resolves itself into labor, but of that which resolves itself into rent, and of that which resolves itself into profit.”[5]  -Adam Smith

It is important to note that a ‘pure’ socialism or capitalism has never existed on any large scale.  Every world historical economy has always been a mixture.  For example, consider the notion of rent in capitalism.

“For the purposes of economics, Smith divides society into three economic classes: the landlords, the laborers, and the merchants and manufacturers (448), or those who live by rent, those who live by wages, and those who live by profit (217). Now the interests of the first two classes are tied to the prosperity of the nation; economic expansion raises the value of land and increases the demand for labor and hence its wages. But exactly the opposite is the case with the third class, those who live by profit:

But the rate of profit does not, like rent and wages, rise with prosperity, and fall with the declension of the society. On the contrary, it is naturally low in rich, and high in poor countries, and it is always highest in the countries which are going fastest to ruin. The interest of this third order, therefore, has not the same connection with the general interest of the society as that of the other two (219).

Thus the interests of the third class run contrary to the interests of the other two; expansion actually raises the cost of labor and rent and increases competition, thereby lowering profits, so much so that the ruination of a country is actually in the best interests of the third class”[6]

It is interesting to note here that economic expansion “raises the value of land” but it is uncertain how long the values of land can go higher and how exactly the profits increase unless the property owner is the sole owner, i.e., already paid for and not obtained by a loan.  It would seem that profit is “high in poor countries”.  Adam Smith takes this an indicator of “ruination of a country”.

A property owner allows a tenant to live in their property for a fee.  The renter does not own the property and if the renter quits paying rent they are not allowed to live in the house.  Likewise, a mortgage is ‘ownership’ on paper but the bank allows a mortgagee to live in the house as long as the mortgage is paid.  In both cases, ownership is not sole or absolute – it is contingent on paying a periodic fee.  So, the landlord or the bank cooperates with the individual in the interest of capitalizing on the financial arrangement.  It should also be noted that the bank and the landlord are likely to be indebted themselves to the third class, “those who live by profit”; the financiers, that Adam Smith writes of above.  

We can see that the renter or the mortgagee is not a property owner in Adam Smith’s notion of property ownership.  However, the aspiration of the renter or mortgagee is for property ownership.  Since the aspiration of sole ownership is not reality, a group arrangement is made that allows an individual to have shelter until their aspirations can be obtained.  However, it is certainly true that most individuals today will never own their house outright.  Therefore, in reality they will live their whole lives working and cooperating in group economic, arrangements. 

In finance, leverage is the ability of an investor to increase their ‘paper’ holdings based on loans.  Again, a group economic arrangement allows investors to obtain securities that they would normally not be able to afford.  As such, the investor is obligated to a group, cooperative arrangement to leverage their holdings. The question of fees and profit is actually an ancient issue.  The Bible explicitly forbids interest or profit on loans (Exodus 22:25–27, Leviticus 25:36–37 and Deuteronomy 23:20–21).  These passages state that interest is exploitative.  In this sense, those that base their faith on these books would be in perfect agreement with the writings of Karl Marx (at least on this specific topic) and Adam Smith. Exploitation with higher and higher fees for loans on rental and mortgaged property are examples of how the wealthy class, the real property owners, has increased their wealth at the expense of those that are not wealthy.  This exploitation has been going on from the beginning.  Even Adam Smith recognized the exploitation of labor.  This excerpt is from an essay on The Wealth of Nations:

“However, in the negotiation of wages, the worker is at a distinct disadvantage. In the first place, the law prevented him from joining with his follows to bargain (71, 151). Further, the law always favors the masters over the workers (151). Workers are prevented from joining in unions to raise wages, but the masters are not forbidden to unite to lower them; indeed, the law encourages them to do so. This legal inequality particularly angered Smith, who noted that, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices (137).” But when the workers attempt to meet, it “generally end[s] in nothing, but the punishment or ruin of the ringleaders (71).” The inequality is so great that:

Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen, its counselors are always the masters. When the regulation, therefore, is in favor of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favor of the masters (151).”[7] –Adam Smith

Socialism also recognizes the tendency for exploitation of the worker and tries to address it.

In both socialism and capitalism dues must be paid to benefit.  For Christianity[8], capitalism and socialism[9] a main tenant is “He who does not work shall not eat”.  Paying your dues is not an option in socialism or in capitalism.  Fees are required to participate in the group.  The main difference is that in capitalism, according to the ‘theory’ of Adam Smith, individualism as self-interest reigns supreme.  The ideal is that the individual worker benefits with private property ownership not the financier.  In socialism, the individual worker benefits as well but socialists want to formally recognize ownership of production in a group context – the laborer not the financier.  Depending on the type of socialism, the group could mean anything from share holders in a factory to nationalism of a factory.  In theory, the individual should benefit in both systems.  However, socialism wants to take precautions to ensure that the group of laborers benefit and capitalism viz. Adam Smith acknowledges that in some cases the financiers will benefit at the cost of the laborers.  Both systems distribute wealth in one way or another.  The fundamental problem that Marx wanted to address with socialism was how the wealthy, the financiers, ended up with all the real private property ownership while the workers, in effect, ended up as indentured slaves barely able to pay their bills.  Additionally, in both systems classes are set up in practice.

Karl Marx, the founder of communism, thought there was a higher and lower form of communism[10].  Engels and Lenin called the lower form of communism, socialism.  Socialism is not egalitarian.  Egalitarianism means everything is shared equally.  Marx described socialism like this:

“But one man is superior to another physically or mentally, and so supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time; and labor, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor. It recognizes no class differences, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment and thus productive capacity as natural privileges. It is therefore a right of inequality, in its content, like every right. Right by its very nature can consist only in the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable only by an equal standard insofar as they are brought under an equal point of view, are taken from one definite side only, for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored. Further, one worker is married, another not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with an equal performance of labor, and hence an equal share in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right instead of being equal would have to be unequal.”[11]

Karl Marx thought that communism would eventually replace socialism not by force but by natural progression.  Communism is egalitarian.  Communism thinks that wealth should be distributed equally among equals.  Individuals should not be singled out according to class, wealth, natural abilities, etc. but should work cooperatively for the greater good of society.  Communism does not believe in private property.  Private ownership and competition is thought to favor the rich and; necessarily, put less wealthy individuals at a competitive disadvantage.  Private property is what gives rise to a class stratified society.  In communism the ideal is one of egalitarianism; that all people are equal and should receive the benefit of their labor equally. 

For communism, individual ownership is not allowed but that does not restrain class stratification.  The administrators of shared wealth, the government, become the de facto upper class.  Wealth gets disproportionately distributed according to this class structure in communism as well.  In practice, capitalism, socialism and communism cannot claim a classless society nor can they claim that the individual is the sole beneficiary of the toil of their labor as property owners.

What follows from this is that the group or the individual is not normative for these economies but ideals.  Class is inevitable for capitalism, socialism and communism – it is utopic to think otherwise.  A class is a group comprised of individuals.  Mitt Romney is part of a class, a wealthy class.  Most of us will realistically never be in his class.  However, humans are aspirational – being human is being towards a future.  In this way capitalism offers the promise of a possibility – the possibility for success, the chance to be in the wealthy class.  For those that extol the virtues of capitalism, it does not seem to matter as much that the vast majority of these aspirations will never be fulfilled.  What matters is the place for the dream, the drama of the ideal.  As individuals, we need aspiration just after the need for food and shelter.  We need to think we are or will be a part of the wealthy class.  The goal of this aspiration is for membership in a group, a communal hope shared in capitalism.  We are ready to use our collective language, our economic group arrangements, our families, societies and affiliations to aid us in our goals – the envisioned absolute wealth of our freedom.  The dream that imagines itself as self-interested individualism is all the while prefaced, perforated and dependent on the other, the group, the community – our shared language.  This is what socialism recognized and tried to articulate in its economics.  What communism lost was the aspirational; the value we place on the desire for moving towards a future.

In reality, there never is an isolated individual that can cleanly be separated from a collectivity.  Additionally, the dream of accumulating more and more sole property ownership based on the system of self-interested individuals appears to reach practical limits as a result of the third group Adam Smith writes of, the financiers.  None of us are hermits and make up private languages as we go through our daily lives.  The notion of an Adam Smith styled individualism is what many philosophers think of as metaphysical (meta-phusis as beyond physics or beyond the physical).  The aspiration I have referred to is desire for the metaphysical individual.  It does not reflect our lived reality but necessarily participates in our sense of meaning and hope as an ideal.  Aspiration is essential for meaning.  To aspire is to see beyond the hum drum, the daily grind and meaningless repetition – perchance to dream.  How does the state, the government, figure into our aspirations?

For Adam Smith the state is the guarantor of our security.  It is responsible for the military.  It also is responsible for enforcing the law.  It holds the promise of reprisal for violations of law.   It is also responsible for public works projects and certain public institutions where profit is not possible.

“According to the system of natural liberty, the sovereign [government] has only three duties to attend to; three duties of great importance, indeed, but plain and intelligible to common understanding: first the duty of protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies; secondly, the duty of protecting, as far as possible, every member of society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it, or the duty of establishing an exact administration of justice; and, thirdly, the duty of erecting and maintaining certain public works and certain public institutions, which it can never be for the interest of any individual, or small number of individuals, to erect and maintain; because the profit could never repay the expense to any individual or small number of individuals, though it may frequently do much more than repay it to a great society.”[12]

Contrary to popular belief, Adam Smith was not opposed to government regulation.  He spent 100 pages in the “Wealth of Nations” discussing banking regulations.  As has already been mentioned he knew the financiers in a society had a corrosive effect on society.  They had a tendency for exploitation and government regulation was needed to hold them in check.

For Adam Smith, self-interest is good for those that live by ‘rent’ and ‘wages’ but not for those that live by ‘profit’ as previously mentioned.  Smith thought those that live by profit had a destructive influence on society.  This is why Smith favored regulations for those who live by profit.  The government certainly plays an essential role for ensuring a fair market.  Of course, he recognized the issues with capricious regulations and the way they interfered with the normal market operation of efficient competition.  However, he would have never given financiers carte blanch, deregulated access to the market.  Adam Smith would have said, “I told you so” when the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act of 1999, deregulated financial services.   It repealed part of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 that prohibited a single institution like a bank from acting as any combination of an investment bank, a commercial bank, and an insurance company. Basically, the repeal allowed banks to use customer deposits for risky financial ventures.  It also allowed banks to have conflicts of interest by ‘advising’ its customers to use its financial services and products without regard to more competitive and valuable investments.  Additionally, the government was implicated in these risky investments as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) backed up customer deposits.  The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act tried to restore financial oversight of banks and financial institutions and consumer protections.  One thing it did was to allow the government to liquidate these institutions that are covered by the FDIC in order to keep these institutions from having large scale failures that would jeopardize the ability of the U.S. government to bail them out.  Regulations not only provide a fair market but also protect the government from bankrupting itself from market excesses.  Adam Smith would have understood the need for this and would not be calling for deregulation as modern Republicans have been doing.

The issue here is that when individual self-interest promotes the healthy working of the market place then the government should stay of the way.  However, the government exists to make sure it protects “every member of society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it”.  While it may be in the interest of oil companies to “drill baby drill” it may not be in the interest of the environment and therefore, other members of society to let them do it merely to increase their profits.  The government’s job is to make sure the market protects other members of society whose self-interest may be damaged by one group’s profit incentive in the market.

Adam Smith even recognized that the ‘free market’ was not a panacea that could solve all social ills.  He stated that a primary function of government was to take care of public works and public institutions where the “profit could never repay the expense” of doing the project.  It is certainly arguable that health care insurance providers and education could come under this rubric.  It is not the profit interest of health care insurance providers to cover certain risky population groups or chronic illnesses.  In order to maximize their profits it is in their interest to ‘cherry pick’ their clientele and drop clients that are a drain on the system.  It would be hard to believe that anyone could seriously argue that health care insurance providers have not had quite a long history that illustrates this point.  Additionally, while a very good private education is certainly feasible, the cost would prohibit many classes of society from being able to obtain an education.  Education for a profit certainly works for those that can pay but simply ignoring the others that cannot pay is not in the long term interest of a society.  Adam Smith argued that education is a public work when he we wrote:

 “The same thing may be said of the gross ignorance and stupidity which, in a civilized society, seem so frequently to benumb the understandings of all the inferior ranks of people. A man without the proper use of the intellectual faculties of a man, is, if possible, more contemptible than even a coward, and seems to be mutilated and deformed in a still more essential part of the character of human nature. Though the state was to derive no advantage from the instruction of the inferior ranks of people, it would still deserve its attention that they should not be altogether uninstructed. The state, however, derives no inconsiderable advantage from their instruction. The more they are instructed the less liable they are to the delusions of enthusiasm and superstition, which, among ignorant nations, frequently occasion the most dreadful disorders. An instructed and intelligent people, besides, are always more decent and orderly than an ignorant and stupid one. They feel themselves, each individually, more respectable and more likely to obtain the respect of their lawful superiors, and they are therefore more disposed to respect those superiors. They are more disposed to examine, and more capable of seeing through, the interested complaints of faction and sedition, and they are, upon that account, less apt to be misled into any wanton or unnecessary opposition to the measures of government. In free countries, where the safety of government depends very much upon the favorable judgment which the people may form of its conduct, it must surely be of the highest importance that they should not be disposed to judge rashly or capriciously concerning it.”[13]

While this may seem to promote a certain kind of equality, it is really “the duty of erecting and maintaining certain public works and certain public institutions, which it can never be for the interest of any individual or small number of individuals, to erect and maintain”.

The government is not a cancerous growth of society but just as essential as referees and rules are to games of sport.  Getting rid of government is cutting off your nose to spite your face.  It ignores the need for a market framework where fairness and protections are ensured.  It should restrain monopolies and market bubbles that would cause cost to be “the highest which can be squeezed out of the buyers”.  It is also responsible for filling in gaps that self-interest and profit cannot address.  Karl Marx and Adam Smith both addressed the inherent exploitation built into an economy.  Protecting individuals from economic exploitation is vital for an economy as socialism and Adam Smith understood.  Karl Marx went further with trying to embody elements of protections for ‘self-interested’ individuals into an economy.  Adam Smith understood the human need for aspiration, the need to dream, and tried to embody this in the economy of capitalism.

What is dreamed must pertain to me and not to an abstraction about the state or egalitarianism.  An ‘aspiration of the state’ is too abstract from the self-interested point of view.  However, the abstract notion of an ‘aspiration for the state’ is not inconsequential – it is the aim of morality or what Adam Smith termed sympathy[14] (more like what we think of as empathy).  Morality aims at egalitarianism in that it places oneself in the place of the other for Adam Smith.

“However selfish man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though they derive nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.”[15]

When I refer to morality, I am speaking specifically about the natural empathy that many people have for the suffering of others.  There are very few people that proclaim outright that if you do not work just go ahead and starve to death.  For most of us, we may think that those who do not work will not eat but few are willing to let children, elderly, handicapped or even lazy people die before our eyes.  The same holds true for health care.  We do not want to pay for others health care but the idea of just letting people die without it is abhorrent.  This is why we are willing to pay more for emergency room health care than to address the issues systemically and at a lower cost.  Most of us will not overtly proclaim that if you do not have health insurance go off somewhere and die.  Few will proudly state that if you do not have shelter go live on the street (just not my street).  While there is a certain chest beating, cathartic youthfulness about these proclamations it offends most people’s sense of responsiveness to these situations.  It may help some to think that suffering is the fault of the person suffering (as certainly may be the case for some) but pushing this very far starts to look like ‘protesting too much’ and really serves only to show that the pull of morality is felt only reacted to negatively and defensively. 

This feeling of responsibility for the suffering for others is what I mean by morality.  From the point of view of ‘my aspirations’, the suffering of the other is irrelevant.  From the ideal of pure self-interestedness there is no place for this feeling.  If the self is thought as the absolute metaphysic of individualism, the sole property owner, it does not serve the absolute interest of the self to care about the suffering of others; much less do anything about it that will not directly benefit the self.  While morality is an abstraction from the point of view of self-interestedness, it is nevertheless a notion that most are not willing to depart with.  Our self-interestedness tells us not to pay for anyone other than ourselves but the pull of morality will not let us ignore the suffering of the other.  Morality is the ghost of our group involvement.  It is the basis for the inevitability and indispensability of the state.

As I have discussed while our metaphysics of individualism compels us towards an aspirational future, our realistic, daily involvements are fundamentally based on language, community and group.  The capitalistic goal for moving into the upper class is itself a self-interested aspiration that embodies the notion of class, the group.  All this shows us that individualism is perforated with group involvement and community.  We are indebted to the other whether we acknowledge it or not.  While chest beating individualism may be fun for some, individualism, the sole property owner, is essentially a dream, a drama that gives us meaning in our ‘me-only’ self-centeredness.  However, individualism ignores the real ways in which we participate with others and are always already indebted to the other. 

Karl Marx went further than leaving the option of morality up to every self-interested individual.  Adam Smith as well understood the role of government in achieving the affluence and security of individuals in an economy, protecting them from exploitation and providing public works projects.  The communist notion of equalitarianism failed to make everything equal in terms of labor and preventing exploitation.  However, socialism attempts legal protections of groups and individuals that aim at fairness, equal opportunity, an equal playing field and protections in an economy.  It is important to note that ‘equal’ here is not some absolute ideal of equalitarianism as in communism but should be thought under the rubric of fairness.  Marx fleshed out possibilities for how this could work more than Adam Smith but Adam Smith would probably have more in common with the objectives of Karl Marx’ than many of the modern Republican, the neo-conservative, advocates of capitalism.

In any case, we are neither socialists nor capitalist; we are both.  The ideal of either is not where we live.  This is why there never has been a pure capitalism or a pure socialism.  All great economies have essential elements of both.  Beating others over the head with these labels may make some feel good but it is only a silly drama that fuels an inflated ego.  These kinds of accusations can also be used to manipulate less aware people but it is really only empty rhetoric.  The outcome of such practices is a chronic condition called hate and only hurts the hater in the long run.  I believe it is better to ‘see’ how we live and try to ‘understand’ our drives and aspirations as they show themselves without metaphysical hermeneutics, pre-cognitive dispositions and assumptions, working below the surface.  There is value in letting ourselves see and understand ourselves as we are and not in the service of some head game we play on ourselves.  In all great economies, socialism and capitalism are really only two different historical ways of thinking about the same thing – an economy that works.


[1] Adam Smith, Wealth Of Nations, [WN I.ii.2)

[2] The Forgotten Agrarian: Re-Reading Adam Smith, John C. Médaille, http://www.medaille.com/newadamsmith.htm, parenthetical numbers refer to section numbers in the cited Adam Smith work

[3] ibid

[4] Alas, you too young, free-market libertines who rail against the socialists in your rabid individualism – you too are a product of ‘group-think’ – it is called language – you just don’t know your indebtedness yet…

[5] Adam Smith, Wealth Of Nations, [WN I.vi.7-8: p 67]

[6] The Forgotten Agrarian: Re-Reading Adam Smith, John C. Médaille

[7] ibid

[8] II Thessalonians 3:10

[9] In accordance with Lenin’s understanding of the socialist state, article twelve of the 1936 Soviet Constitution states:

In the USSR work is a duty and a matter of honor for every able-bodied citizen, in accordance with the principle: “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”

In Lenin’s writing, this was not so much directed at lazy or unproductive workers, but rather the bourgeoisie. (Marxist theory defines the bourgeoisie as the group of those who buy the labor-power of workers and engage it in the process of production, deriving profits from the surplus value thus expropriated. Once communism was realized, that is, after the abolition of property and the law of value, no-one would live off the labor of others.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/He_who_does_not_work,_neither_shall_he_eat

[10] http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/ch05.htm

[11] Capital, Vol. I, Chapter 1, Section 4 (p. 78); Also see http://www.lrp-cofi.org/book/chapter3_transitiontosocialism.pdf

[12] Adam Smith, Wealth Of Nations, ([1776] 1976, 687–88)

[13] Ibid, (WN V.i.f.61: 788)

[14] Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Adam Smith, http://www.iep.utm.edu/smith/   

[15] The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith (TMS I.i.1.1)

A Rebuttal…

Here is my rebuttal of this,

http://critical-thinker.net/?p=1025

First, I would not maintain that idealizing the past is solely a conservative issue. I think you can always find cases where any group idealizes the past. However, in my opinion, the fallacy in your counter argument is of cherry picking. Admittedly, I have not done any statistical analysis of how often conservatives appeal to an idealized past in their rhetoric compared to the other cases you cite. I submit these points to reinforce my point:

Point 1 – Conservative by definition implies a history to conserve. The definition of the word contains my main premise, that conservatives root their identity, heritage and notion of truth in the past. None of the other groups you mentioned call themselves by a name that essentially, in the definition of the very word, implies identification with the past. I find this to be along the lines of a tautology, it is necessarily true that conservatism implies a past to conserve and any group that calls themselves ‘conservative’ sets up an identity with the past…

Conservatism means to conserve the past.
Therefore, a conservative wants to conserve the past.

Point 2 – I think most folks would agree with my presumption that conservatives continually hearken back to a better time that proves their ideology much more than other group’s rhetoric (including the ones you mentioned). I do not think that the numbers are the same for the cases you cite – numbers and proportionality matter. Admittedly, I have not and do not plan to try to come up with stats on this so this depends on people’s own judgment that preferably do not have a vested interest in the outcome of their judgment.

Point 3 – I think this is your admonition that conservatives idealize the past…

“I think a more accurate definition of conservative is someone who wants to conserve tried-and-true traditional institutions and who supports only gradual change, believing that such things are the way they are for good reasons.”

The “tried and true” is exactly what my contention is – the ideal of the “tried and true” may not have really been ‘tried’ or ‘true’. It certainly is an interpretation that is contestable – it may have been ‘tried’ but maybe not the way people think it was tried and the outcome may not have been the ‘true’ that common, un-researched opinions may have assigned to it. Are you suggesting that everything or even most things people think are “tried” and “true” really are – are you? It is the job of propaganda to make/create the content of the ‘tried’ and ‘true’. The reality is not necessarily either and I find typically different.

Point 4 – The graph you cite in your previous post that came from here,
http://scottgrannis.blogspot.com/2011/12/federal-finances-update.html
along with this graph,
http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/lns14000000
and these from my post,
http://www.mixermuse.com/blog/2012/01/06/all-you-need-to-know-about-politics-1-6-12-2/

all demonstrate my point. When Bush took office January 20, 2001 the unemployment was 4.2%. When President Obama took office January 20, 2009 the unemployment rate was 7.8%. Four months later in May it was 9.4%. Your GDP graphs show the almost straight line up at the end of the Bush administration as well. These straight lines up started at the end of the Bush administration and peaked just after Obama took office. They have been coming down ever since. This is the point I am making and you made it for me as well. The economy is like a cruise ship. Don’t forget the recession started as a result of 8 years of a Republican president and 6 years of Republican House and Senate control. A president cannot change the economy the day he gets into office. However, there is substantial evidence that you made and I made and others that things are turning around since Obama got into office – the proof is in the pudding. All you have to do is look at the graphs and where they occur to make my point. If you look at all the data points and do not take one point like “19.7” you will see that the debt went up just as Bush was leaving and Obama was starting. Also, look at the rate of change of spending in the graph on my blog cited above. Here is a better graph from GAO data,
http://www.gao.gov/special.pubs/longterm/debt/

I am not sure where your numbers come from on your graph but they seem a little skewed from the GAO numbers.

Another thing you have not taken into account is discretionary and non-discretionary part of the budget. Discretionary spending is annual spending that the congress and the president have to deal with every year; non-discretionary is mandatory, multiyear spending that has already been committed to by previous administrations (i.e., like food stamps calculated to poverty levels). The non-discretionary portion of the 2011 budget is 59%; the discretionary is 34%.
http://nationalpriorities.org/resources/federal-budget-101/peoples-guide/

What Republicans call Obama-Care has not kicked in yet but the GAO wrote a report that I have read from start to finish that claims it will take 100 billion off the budget over 10 years as compared to doing nothing (can’t cherry pick GAO reports in my opinion – ask my wife – she retired from the GAO). However, the 1 trillion dollars over 10 years of Medicare Part D that was passed by a Republican president (Bush) and Republican dominated House and Senate has already started to hit non-discretionary spending. The non-discretionary part of the budget makes up the lion’s share of the increased debt spending that you see at the end of the Bush administration. Part is this has to do with the wars, the national disasters (FEMA) and more importantly the recession. As more people go into poverty entitlements that were all previously linked to poverty numbers kick in with much higher amounts of spending – nothing to do with President Obama.

As you can see from your graphs and the others ones I have cited, the graphs are taking a turn for the better since President Obama took office but it will take more time than a year to turn it around and a congress that cooperates with the president to get military and entitlement spending down.

Please attach further comments to the original post cited at the top – thanks.

More Interesting Information:

•Since 2001, the U.S. has spent $7.6 trillion in security-related efforts, including: Department of Defense base-line, nuclear weapons, Homeland Security and war.
•From 2000 to 2011, security-related discretionary spending increased 96% versus non-security discretionary spending which increased 39%.
•The 2011 cost of interest on the national debt which is related to military spending is $80 billion. This is equal to the 2012 budgets of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Labor and Transportation combined.
•2011 spending on the Iraq War ($47.4 billion) would pay for all the public disaster funding that FEMA disbursed from Fiscal Year 1999 through Fiscal Year 2010.
•2011 spending on the Afghan War ($122 billion) is greater than the 2012 deficits of 42 states and the District of Columbia combined.

http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2011/09/08-3

http://costofwar.com/en/publications/2011/ten-years-after-911/

and,

http://costofwar.com/en/publications/2011/ten-years-after-911/ten-year-visualization/

PS

I have not researched this data yet but plan to see if this is accurate:
Medicare Part D will add 9.4 trillion over next 75 years to the debt.
http://www.cms.gov/ReportsTrustFunds/
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/29/part-d-revisited/
Joe Scarborough reports Medicare Part D will add 7 trillion over 10 years to the debt.
Credit Default Swaps were 50 to 70 trillion during the Bush years.
I will not state that this is good data until I see reputable data sources.

Rich Envy?

In response to this post about the poor’s rich envy…

http://critical-thinker.net/?p=943

I think you may find the Economic Policy Institute has some interesting facts concerning the rich and poor.

http://www.epi.org/publication/11-telling-charts-about-2011-economy/

For example:

“In other words, the richest 5 percent of households obtained roughly 82 percent of all the nation’s gains in wealth between 1983 and 2009. The bottom 60 percent of households actually had less wealth in 2009 than in 1983, meaning they did not participate at all in the growth of wealth over this period.”
http://www.epi.org/publication/large-disparity-share-total-wealth-gain/

“In 1978, compensation of CEOs was 35 times greater than compensation of average workers. Since then, this ratio has skyrocketed, peaking at 299-to-1 in 2000. During the Great Recession, CEO pay fell relative to pay of typical workers because much of CEO compensation is directly linked to the stock market, which fell sharply in 2008 and 2009. However, the ratio bounced back during the recovery and stood at 243-to-1 in 2010. At this rate, it likely will not take long for the gap to reach its prior peak.”
http://www.epi.org/publication/ceo-ratio-average-worker/

However, the unemployment situation has improved since President Obama took office – checkout the graph.
http://www.epi.org/publication/job-seekers-ratio-remains-4-1-34th-straight/

I have also tracked this data at…
http://www.mixermuse.com/blog/2012/01/06/all-you-need-to-know-about-politics-1-6-12-2/

I think what is at issue here is not the ‘envy’ factor but the relative growing disparity between the rich and the poor and the erosion of the middle class. Put another way, how far would you let it go before you thought there may be an issue – 5% very wealthy and 95% very poor as many small countries have been historically and continue to be? Would you employ the same logic of envy and wealth creation if this were the case? In other words, have you set up an absolute ideology of your stated terms or are your concerns relative to the ‘current’ situation? If the current situations in these graphs is true or were true, is this acceptable to your current ideology? If not, what would be the trigger point where you might concede a break down in your ideology? Also, do you believe that the facts cited are wrong?

Is the relative growing disparity between the rich and the poor because the rich deserve it more or the poor deserve it less (let’s not get into blame about what party is responsible yet – just want to get an idea of your belief system)?

Interesting Note:
Here are America’s Highest Paid Chief Executives…
http://www.forbes.com/lists/2011/12/ceo-compensation-11_rank.html