21st century economics

Was just watching a few minutes of some heart-wrenching movie starring Denzel Washington where he played a father who’s down on his luck due to downsizing at his company, only to be confronted by an unforeseeable heart condition afflicting his young son which requires a heart transplant in order to survive, and only to find out his insurance coverage through his job had been reduced along with his hours. Drew a few tears out of me, not that that’s difficult to do. But it also bleeds into a topic that stays in the back of my mind and always has: modern-day economic disparity.

Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t take an emotional argument like that depicted in tonight’s movie to get a rise out of me. Just happened to be what tripped my trigger this particular evening. Some would argue that a scenario like that described above is fairly rare, which is probably true, and they might go on to caution me to look out how centralized, state-funded healthcare programs haven’t produced the desired results. Won’t get an argument out of me about that. My stance continues to be that we as a society would be better off if health insurance companies were cut out of much of our healthcare system, possibly being reserved for unforeseen emergencies and catastrophic events only. As it stands now, insurance companies dictate the cost of healthcare at pretty much every level and are responsible for so much of it being cost-prohibitive out of pocket for the average citizen. The only way costs will be corrected (and largely lowered) is if our medical establishment becomes a truly free market without middlemen insurance companies aiding in inflating the costs. The fact that nearly all medical expenses (including routine care and prescriptions) are too much for the average consumer to afford is the sign of an unsustainable setup.

Many, many people are beholden to insurance companies in order to receive quality healthcare. I’m not, but I’m an outlier who thankfully has managed to remain pretty healthy thus far. But I listen to all of you out there and hear the frustration. Plenty of people are disgruntled about the cost of insurance that is automatically deducted from their pay, and plenty aren’t intimately familiar with what all their plans will or won’t cover. Because reading those forms is a legalese jargon nightmare, as is so often the case when it comes to important matters.

But my thoughts tonight aren’t restricted to the U.S. healthcare system or Obamacare. That’s just one mighty arm of this larger economic concern.

Modern life can seem most maddening when it comes to observing economic disparity. Now, I already know what my libertarian brethren will say about how we don’t want a socialist system and how that will only make matters worse. Not disagreeing with you there. However, something does indeed have to give. Not sure what exactly or how, but when this many people (and now we’re on a global stage where everybody’s watching) are experiencing feelings of resentment because their reality is absolutely nothing like the rich people’s reality broadcast all day/everyday on television, there’s going to be a problem eventually. The rights people are fighting to uphold are falling apart partly because they’re viewed as benefiting some more than others. Right or wrong, that’s the increasingly common perception. And it’s perceptions that are stoking the embers of aggravation and disrespect — it’s perceptions you are all up against. If perceptions don’t change, which they likely won’t if disparities continue to grow, then more and more people will seek to tear down the very system that’s currently in place. And they might win out.

I read where some alt-righters like to denigrate all socialists or leftists as a bunch of overly emotional idealists with no concept of how the real world works. Well, in some cases that may be true, but the potential threat they pose remains the same regardless. People don’t have to operate with sound logic and rationality in order to wage a culture war, and there are no guarantees that those deemed most logical and rational will win in the end. It comes down to a battle of ideas, and what’s working against some of you is that you’re viewed as insincere and uncaring about the masses. So good luck in attempting to change hearts and minds, especially if you or other dumbass minions claiming to belong to the groups you’re identified with use abrasive tactics in trying to put points across.

Classist concerns have always impacted my outlook and worldview. That’s no secret. And I can tell you that as a long-time libertarian-leaning individual it can feel uncomfortable at times arguing alongside the smug types who care mostly about protecting and maintaining and increasing their own, forever talking as if all they have came purely as a product of their hard work, failing to mention the people they’ve met along the way who’ve given them breaks or the lucky opportunities that have arisen. I’ve been fortunate to have met a wide variety of people over time in person, including a few who received their money through inheritance (“trust fund babies” is what we refer to them as). Had a client once upon a time who shared he was left a sizeable amount of money, enough to where his wife didn’t need to work and he was able to take over a year off between jobs without worrying. That’s not a reality I personally can relate with one bit. And yet he and I both consider ourselves libertarians of sorts and had many conversations about economics (me mostly listening since he worked in that sector and so had plenty to tell).

A man like him can become very defensive when confronted about his fortunate circumstances of birth. Not that I confronted him on it since that wouldn’t have been good for business back then. But I have confronted others I’ve met at times, pointing out the differences between us. Why? Because I can’t help but notice. Another man I used to know, a friend, has a timeshare in Jamaica and regularly vacations there and down to Florida with his entire family. He liked to tell me about it, and honestly sometimes I didn’t want to hear about it, especially when I was hitting the skids and having financial problems. Nice as he was as a person, he couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand him entirely on that level. He took time off work to heal up after very expensive elective surgeries, surgeries me and mine wouldn’t have an option to receive because we can’t afford it (even those with insurance can’t afford the amount expected to be paid out of pocket) nor can we afford the time off work. Different options lead to different outlooks.

I used to work for a man who raced Porsche cars that he owned. If you can imagine that. Even picked me up in one one time to show it off (very uncomfortable because when they race them there’s these bars inside to reinforce the cabin in case they roll — and those bars don’t come out) when I traveled down South to visit with him. That man would tell me stories of what it was like going from making over $500,000/yr. to a little over $100,000/yr. — a MAJOR transition for him and most especially for his wife. Was a truly nice guy overall and I still remember him fondly, but do you think I could relate with anything he was presenting me with? I’ve never made anywhere close to $100,000/yr. in my life thus far. Certainly have no idea what a $1,000 champagne brunch involves. Don’t know what it’s like to pay someone to prepare my meals in-home or come clean my house, though my Grandmother does continue to clean other people’s houses in order to supplement her social security money, as is very necessary.

I regularly met with a pediatrician, met with an accountant, met with a tax attorney, met with middle-management personnel, met with successful entrepreneurs, met with a few other lawyers, met with a former lobbyist — lots of people from a different socioeconomic strata than me. And I’m very glad for those experiences since they helped to humanize such folks, making it harder for me to concoct caricatures in my mind since I had met them and gotten to know them. Though I’d be lying if I pretended I don’t still harbor flickers of resentment toward upper middle-/middle-class folks in general. Probably was ingrained in me from the start, and it never fully dies. I remain aware of that tendency within me to judge, partly because I know that myself and mine were frequently enough judged by that class as well. The distrust and cautiousness runs both ways. Always are exceptions, but that’s been the general situation.

At least I’m aware of it inside myself. Plenty aren’t. Or they haven’t explored what it is exactly that they resent. Some are just envious and want what others have. I may be that way too to some extent, but I’m pretty content with having not so much and actually tend to prefer it this way. But that attitude can be a defensive strategy, as in reckoning that the less you have then the less there is to lose and miss. Others would say that’s the claims of someone lacking ambition. Perhaps so. But I would rebut by saying that some who have quite a lot didn’t gain it through pure ambition.

Either way, tit for tat squabbles aside, I understand that people’s perception can and does keep them down to where they don’t try to compete because they assume it’s futile. And that’s no way to approach a market economy if one hopes to succeed. Altering such perceptions is important, but how do you do that when fewer jobs with the chance of upward mobility are available now, yet the population continues to increase? Not everybody can be cutting edge and innovative in the ways that are being rewarded at present. When our manufacturing base was gutted and shipped to Mexico and China, that was viewed as a betrayal of a huge number of citizens in this country. It’s a position I hold as well. And once the southern border basically became a joke and undocumented workers came up to take jobs at lower wages than Americans, we as a society were presented with a new host of problems. Now we hear of tech jobs being outsourced to India and read of employees in that sector fretting over their futures. Where does this all end?

We all look out onto our society and observe so many major corporations becoming multinationals, going global and caring only about American consumers so long as another market doesn’t rise to trump our demand. Some say once the middle class grows and becomes better established in China, watch out! I don’t doubt it. Yet our country owes China a lot of money. No clue how that might all shake out in the end.

So many of these major corporations have come to dramatically alter reality for the average citizen, determining where we shop, what we eat, what technologies we rely on and who manufacturers them, how we communicate, what news we’re presented with, what information we can readily access, what hoops we must jump through in order to gain and maintain employment, etc. And yet those same major corporations feel so inhuman. Distant and operating with a whole new set of ethics and values that we then are expected to adapt ourselves to. Do you honestly think people will all be able to adapt? And what happens when they can’t or won’t? Build more privatized prisons to warehouse them within?

Do you see what I see here? This is where the Leftist argument actually contains pieces of truth, uncomfortable as they may be for some out there. People may not articulate themselves terribly well and may rely too much on the wrong leaders to do so on their behalves, but I think this is ultimately what some of them are trying to point at and call attention to. Of course these requests have fallen on deaf ears for quite a while, so I suppose it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that a bunch of ideologically-possessed college students instructed by radical agitators/professors have now taken it upon them to claim to speak for the little people (though many of them arguably are much more concerned with peddling their preferred ideology than actually helping the people whose stories they exhibit — that being how politics tends to roll). These current ideologues are working to appeal to these folks who feel relatively disenfranchised and who worry about what the future may hold.

My question for us is what ideas or counteraction do we have to offer on the libertarian, pro-market end of the spectrum? Because demonstrating that some people can become fabulously wealthy no longer sways the growing majority who can’t relate to or comprehend that level of success. It’s fast coming to be viewed as a pipe dream that’s mostly applicable to those who attend fancy universities and who come into regular contact and hob-nob with other successful people. And that’s pretty accurate since who one knows does definitely play a part in all of this. Networking is key — haven’t we all grown up hearing this repeated? For a great many people out here, it’d likely be through pure happenstance, chance, that they’d rub shoulders with a very wealthy and influential person, let alone develop an ongoing relationship with one. And now that the student loan bubble has hit a record high, fewer youths will be willing (or able) to take the risk of taking on inordinately high loan debt in order to attend a quality university. The vast majority of us needn’t worry about Harvard or Princeton since we’d likely never be admitted anyhow.

Yet every day people do turn on their televisions (much as I wish they wouldn’t, praying that they would please cancel their cable subscriptions and recognize that them paying for the service only further enriches those they view as rich and influential enough already, perpetuating the problem) and gaze upon the Kardashians and other wealthy celebrities and politicians, adding more fuel to the fire and enhancing the sense that we increasingly live in a time of haves and have-nots. But television has proven addictive, so telling people simply not to watch it is pretty pointless. Besides, people feel entertained by doing so. But what do they learn? What messages are they being sent over and over again? If you think the mainstream media is neutral, think again. And if you think marketing and advertising has a minimal impact on our mindsets and behaviors, you’re incredibly naive.

Some of what’s being marketed to us, day in and day out, is divisiveness via neo-tribalism and false narratives. Because there’s a political competition, as always, geared toward telling people what they want to hear (or scaring the hell out of them through intentional fear-mongering), and as with advertising, people can be swayed. They may not trust the Democrats, but they certainly don’t trust the other side. So then what? Libertarians who get televised tend to talk about abstract matters or legalizing/decriminalizing marijuana and that’s about it. Even when folks online do create a platform to discuss our Constitution and the necessary protection of our rights, that may appeal to someone like me, but what about someone who views the police and government as dangerous and rich people as in their own separate orbit?

We have a conundrum on our hands at present, and it certainly won’t be alleviated by throwing around useless labels and calling one another names online. How do we get across to people who haven’t learned all that much about the origins of our government or why our rights matter (thanks largely to the downfall of public schools)? How do you reassure people that caring about any of that is in their best interests when they think the whole system is rigged against them, don’t trust the corporations either, and basically have resolved themselves to be against the current setup? Call it nihilism, sure, but that doesn’t make it go away. Some folks out here seem to be craving greater chaos, almost with a devil-may-care casual attitude toward the fallout likely to occur as a result. Most others just aim to stay out of the fray and go about their daily lives, believing these feuds have always been ongoing and likely always will be, hoping they can make it through their own lives before the wheels fall off of this national project. But then that leaves their kids and grandkids to reckon with the mess when the shit eventually hits the fan.

I won’t claim to have any answers here. But I will say that considerations like this continuously reconfirm my decision to not have kids. Wouldn’t know how to prepare them for the future. And maybe that’s viewed as nihilistic on my own part, and so be it. Something’s obviously happening here, and I doubt the U.S. will be able to keep it together throughout my lifetime. More and more it looks like major social instability is just on the horizon — provoked by political opportunists, yes, but coming nevertheless. People do see an unfair situation, and I can’t blame them for viewing it that way. It’s a tough reality to come to terms with, especially when there appears to be SO MUCH wealth generated and so many possibilities on how it could be better spent rather than rich people congregating at high-priced galas or buying private jets and vacationing on luxurious islands, then showcasing it to the rest of us.

Maybe Hollywood will wind up checked this time around. Maybe. Perhaps people are finally growing tired of the lavish and inconspicuous displays of spoiled celebrities. Personally, I think it would be good for us to come to grips with how watching them really isn’t all that entertaining and instead tends to make us feel worse about our own selves and our own realities. Such comparisons only push the envelope farther. Helps no one, not even the rich celebrities who complain that they’re unfairly targeted with negative attention and are granted no privacy. Might as well give them what they want then. Would be better for us to turn our attention elsewhere and find ways to build our skills rather than continue bankrolling the already wealthy (especially where such fortunate circumstances appear undeserved). Maybe we would be better off with a more leveled society, relatively speaking, to where at least the disparity wasn’t this immense. Libertarian types might not like to hear it, but I’m frequently reminded of primatologists describing how perceived inequities lead to intense displays of outrage and aggression among chimps. We’re talking murderous rampages in some cases, even over fairly minor favoring one over the other(s). Well, we humans obviously are civilized and have a great deal more tolerance than chimps (thank goodness), but we do have our limits too, and it’s very possible that we’re approaching them (at least in terms of how the situation is being perceived — again, perception winds up being everything here). Rather than call on the government to redistribute money, which most don’t want (or don’t trust the government in doing so), we’d be better off figuring out better ways to vote with our own dollars so as to shift the balance. Talk of shopping locally turns out to not only be a hippie slogan — in our own communities is where we can have the most positive impact. Also actually voting in local elections instead of only in presidential elections (at least for those who claim to care about politics). Choosing our entertainment options more wisely so as not to reward spoiled celebrities. Figuring out more sustainable forms of energy so we can finally cease being beholden to the Saudi Royal Fucking Family. Seriously, fuck those guys! We do need more jobs, but the government’s no good at providing them (aside from the military and contractors). What else?

Some of the ideas commonly associated with the Political Left aren’t bad ideas. Not all are purely idealistic. One would think that real conservatives and real liberals alike would choose to care about sustainability. That’s an area where we could make inroads with one another, bringing ourselves into direct physical contact in the process.

That’s enough on this topic tonight.

Late-night doodling and thinking

Never know what I’m going to come up with…

left_right_rippling

Just playing around with the GIMP program while listening to this speech on Karl Marx’s economic views:

[Dammit, the video was removed from YT and I can’t recall the name of the lecturer to replace it.]

Since being referred to as a “Cultural Marxist” by a stranger the other day, figured I ought to brush back up on what he put forth. I get how Karl Marx’s ideas might could translate in smaller communities where people grew and raised their own foods and largely provided for their own needs. But once we expand out into an industrial or, in today’s case, a largely post-industrial setup, many jobs created are tailored to providing for a major population, which entails breaking labor down into assembly lines for greater efficiency. And those kinds of jobs tend to be monotonous and unfulfilling, hence why they’re typically relegated to lower-class workers (and often for crappy pay). Indeed even Marx agrees, as I interpret what he’s primarily referring to as the sort of worthwhile labor that directly contributes value to our lives involves those tasks required to nurture our bodies. The forms of labor people find themselves trapped in today oftentimes are positions that wouldn’t exist if not for the economic machine of such tremendous scale that currently exists.

That consideration ties in with my own view that the work we do must correspond with creating value for ourselves and others, this being one necessary component if we endeavor to live truly productive lives capable of experiencing freedom. So long as we remain dependent on major corporations to provide us with everything we need to survive, we will always be expected to play this economy’s game, from start to finish (employee to consumer); it is those possessing power within that setup who decide pricing, not what’s posing as a supposed “free market” today. They possess the drive and apparently the ability (thanks to a lack of regulations enforcement) to monopolize and oligopolize and thereby set their own rules since real competition is actively stifled. Small businesses demolished in this process was no accident — it was necessary to forge the kind of society we have now, and we’d be fools to believe its growth will halt anytime soon.

The truth about capitalism is that it is a beast that will run and run and run so long as it can. The regulators of it were supposed to be us and our government, yet unfortunately our government was formed at the same time modern corporations got their start, so there was little wisdom at that time to draw up in the Constitution on how we might best manage what turned out to be a new economic and technological age, unprecedented and unpredictable 250 years ago.

Through the immediate colluding between monied interests and those working within government, fascism began to take shape in the 19th century. It had been coming long before the two world wars, and it’s here now, and it will be closer still tomorrow.

Citizens, in such a short span of time, have grown dependent on this way of life and many can imagine it no other way. We are locked into its narrative, chasing its fantasies, dodging its pitfalls where able, and worshiping its gods of money and usury and superficiality. Money is not the root of all evil, per se. The evil here appears to be in the conformist vision that aims to bend humans to fit the machine, even if it breaks us and destroys our quality of life and disrupts the social relations that make our lives worth living. And all for what? For power. For greed. For control. To suit the ambitions of a few who aspire to god-like status above all other human beings,  and to serve whatever lunatic ideologies they operate with. But it is not they who concern me most. It is us who allow this to be.

That all said, there are plenty of spots where Marx and I diverge and head off in our own directions, as to be expected. But the lecturer is correct that Karl Marx posed questions that won’t easily go away or find resolution.