Thursday, January 22, 2009

Capitalism/financial crisis rule of thumb

I've written much on this subject but tonight want to just give you a rule of thumb as a basis for discussion of where we should go and what we should do to fix the incredible mess.

If you read in my previous post the excerpts from FDR's inaugural address, it will be helpful for you to understand the point I am about to make.

Somewhere between FDR's time and today, modern society has, to their error and peril, redefined citizens of this country as "consumers."

In other words, the entire national psyche has stopped thinking of people as individuals (and communities) who "have lives" and replaced them with an image of "consumers."

In fact, this view of people as being only consumers has been codified into every business structure, particularly large businesses and corporations, by government laws and regulations, by the tax code, and by the coarse culture at large (e.g. news, entertainment and advertising).

The concept of "jobs" is one of the battlelines drawn in the sand regarding the question of whether people are living human beings or consumers. Those who tend to think that people are living human beings tend to, like FDR, focus on the vital importance for everyone who wants and needs a meaningful job to have one. That is because jobs are the activity that human beings engage in, in order to continue to live.

Those who oppose emphasis on jobs claim they do so because "job creation programs do not work," but they are actually revealing their almost robotic programming that people are not people but "consumers." That is why they parrot over and over "let the market decide," and "the government is not good at fixing problems" and "we must have 'free markets.'" They believe, some of them sincerely, that they advocate the "American dream," but instead they are part of the American nightmare.

Young people in particular, do read almost any literature from the time of the 1930's and 1940's, from FDR's time, and keep what I said in mind and you will be struck by the difference. FDR sniffed that very bad change in the wind, which is why he was so harsh in criticizing immoral business practices, such as exploitive banking. Yet even he who was so visionary would not have foreseen a time such as today where American society and each other so often think people as simply being "consumers," no longer concerned with the dignity of day to day life, including a job.

This country will die a miserable death if we do not regain an awareness of people as individuals with needs for living, not needs for spending. People need the basics, what I have called sustenance portion of capitalism, and that includes good and lasting jobs. It is then the excess, the surplus of their labor where they can engage in the activity of consumerism. That is totally different from the current situation where people self manipulate and manipulate each other as beings that are only open maws of consumers. I do not understand how any scholarly or thoughtful "free market" advocates do not understand that the reduction of humans and their lives to the definition of "consumers" is just as bad as if the government and each other viewed humans as potential military draftees and that was their sole identity.

Work with me on that analogy. To better understand how human beings and their lives have been enslaved and chained into the identity of "consumers," think about what our country would be like if we did not have an active military draft, but that every human was viewed as having value only as a potential military draftee. We would have physical education programs for our kids that emphasized combat skills and readiness. We would rewrite the curriculum of our schools to produce good potential soldiers. We would have recruiters everywhere extolling the virtue of service, perhaps one located in every classroom in every school. The recruiters would point out during studies those skills and world events that are the most interest to potential soldiers and the best role models. What would entertainment be like? Movies that pine for the draft and glorify it. Fashion? Clothes that reminded the wearer that they could be called to service at any time. What would the job pecking order be like? Jobs that would support a draft would be highly esteemed, while those that had nothing to do with the draft would be viewed as low status. Cars could be designed like small tanks so that civilian drivers could "get used to" the feel of a tank, or another war machine or vessel, "just in case."

So do you see how the mindset of the people when they surrender the idea that they are citizens and human beings and are instead "a verb" has totally dire consequences? In my analogy the humans in that scenario are no longer people-citizens-but a verb (actually an adverb), "ones who might be drafted." Today we are no longer humans but we are a verb, an adverb, a noun and an identity based on one manic activity, which is to "consume."

President Obama is entirely correct to focus on jobs as the cornerstone of recovery. Yes, jobs programs can be messed up, but the identity of the human beings is correct and sound, unlike in this nightmare of a consumer driven economy and worse, as self identity as consumers. Even faith has become far too consumer oriented, where "product" is packaged and consumed. This is a disaster, one that is based on a total misunderstanding of genuine capitalism (as I've explained in many previous posts; if you are new just follow the capitalism and financial crisis labels for more of what I've previously written).

I cannot overemphasize and just repeat my draftee analogy the problem with human beings and their lives being viewed as simply variations of consumers. This is not semantics because as I show in my analogy, an erroneous view of humanity cascades and infects all aspects of individual life, curtails freedom and demeans the individual and their local communities. That, by the way, is another byproduct of the trend away from supposedly "inefficient" local business to multi corporation "centralized" banks and other service providers or product producers. When locally owned business dries up and vanishes you have people who view multiple states, the entire country, and even globally humans as being "current consumers" and "potential consumers." They are no longer people living lives and living in communities. They are only consumers of your products. So any genuine job revitalization must be understood as a local resource that enables local residents to have good ongoing lives, not fill the coffers of people who are far away and again, just view job creation as a way to stimulate consumption for their own benefit. That is a complicated topic that needs its own post. My point remains to you, however, that jobs are not just "the way that those consumer-robots can start spending money again."

I hope you have found this helpful. Before it is too late would be nice.