Elites: The Selfish Gene

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“Greed has taken over”.*

These are not my words but those of David Rubinstein (2007) who made $billions on Wall Street. He recognised the grab epidemic that had gripped the centre of finance. The selfish gene had infected just about everyone, and the infatuation with the big bucks overpowered the otherwise educated.

*Suzanne McGee – Chasing Goldman Sachs (p177)

Of course greed has long been a deadly sin and thus part of the human make up. Wherever there are winners and losers greed has been dangling its lustful bait.

Though greed and elites have been around quite a while the world has now changed significantly and the divide is much more noticeable. Ordinary Joe has become more aware of their daily grind and the comparison with those of wealth. Television, films and books help to keep them informed.

The dramatic change came with the advent of socialism, Marxism and democracy. These developments brought the growth of political parties and trade unions which have changed the dynamics by keeping people aware. Social media has a world audience that means we are neighbours in many respects.

Moreover, information on the great divide is well documented. Noam Chomsky, How the World Works deals with it by mentioning the philosophers David Hume (p129-30) and Aristotle (p209-210). Hume acknowledges that leaders are only in power as long as the people tolerate them.

Aristotle was challenged by a question on how to deal with the great divide – reduce poverty or reduce democracy. His answer was to lessen the impact of poverty, a purely logical conclusion.

It is quite obvious that if you are a part of the elite that you would chose to maintain your status. However, history teaches us that empires always fall and therefore the wise counsel of Aristotle should be heeded.

Unfortunately, greed clouds judgment.  Joseph E. Stiglitz – The Price of Inequality (p5) clarifies the great divide by pointing out that in America the top 1% gets 40% more in one week than the bottom 20% get in a year. Bloody hell! you may whisper to yourself but the worse is yet to come.

The top 0.1% in one and a half days (1.5 days) gets what the bottom 90% make in a year. Now you can scratch your head in disbelief. NO WAY you say, but. Obviously the elite is deaf to the wisdom of Aristotle (384 – 322 BC)

Francis Fukuyama – Political Order and Political Decay (p479) hits the nail on the head when he states, “In the contemporary United States, elites speak the language of liberty but are perfectly happy to settle for privilege”. The same argument can be espoused for the elite everywhere. One consequence is that the poor and poorly educated become marginalized. (p488) Further consequence flow from this reality.

Therefore, few would dispute the analysis of Suzanne McGee (p354) when she says that attitudes on Wall Street have not improved since the 2008 financial crash that battered the poor hard. The cry of the financial elite is, “me first, me foremost, and only me”.

Though the election surprises of 2016, and going into 2017 may wake the elite from their slumber. The Brexit election in the UK and the Trump victory in the presidential election may bring a wakeup call with the cockerel. Throughout Europe we are witnessing a growing dissatisfaction with the elite and their political acolytes.

Furthermore, throughout the world people are standing up and letting it be known that they are fed up with the status quo.

Protestthiec512pf

South Africa:      Since 2008 an average of 2 million people has taken to protesting annually.

Main complaint: poor services and corruption.

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_in_South_Africa

Venezuela:         Polls show that 75% of people are unhappy with the government of Nicolas Maduro. Massive oil reserves suggest it should be a wealthy country.

Main complaint: food shortages, power cuts and corruption.

www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-36319877

September 2016 over 1million protest against government. NY Times suggest mainly middle class but then they can be the most dangerous.

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014%EZ%80%9316_Venezuela_protests

El Salvador:         Main complaint: Corruption – effects food shortages and poor services.

Brasil:                    April 2016 poll shows 63% don’t like the government of Dilma Rousseff. Since been ousted, her successor has faced similar protests.

Main complaint: high inflation, bad recession = prices & unemployment + corruption

www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-35810578

Equatorial Guinea:  has one of Africa’s largest oil reserves but is one of the continents poorest. Their leader is estimated to have amassed a personal fortune of $600 million.

Around the world a better informed populace are beginning to assert their rights. Power to the people!

thXB41ZEDFCorruption

A keyword in many instances is ‘corruption’. However, corruption takes many forms, from direct bribery to filling one’s own pocket surreptitiously. Moreover, corruption is not solely attributed to developing countries. Britain was rocked by the expenses scandal when our Members of Parliament took to giving themselves handsome handouts, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the bill. Then of course, there’s the semi-legal type of corruption known as lobbying.

Interestingly, Senator Ted Cruz, who sought nomination for the republican presidential candidacy, was noted as saying, “…career politicians’ ears and wallets are open to the highest bidder”. In Texas 2015 www.theintercept.com/2015/07/30

Let me give you a handful of views on lobbying.

“…it defies belief that the banking industry’s legions of lobbyists did not have a major impact,”…on government policy. Francis Fukuyama (p481)

“In other cases, interest groups have been able to block legislation harmful to their interests”. Ibid (p486)

These groups, instead of pursuing wealth-creating economic activities, made use of the political system to extract benefits or rents for themselves”.  Mancur Olson – The Rise and Decline of Nations quoted ibid (p481)

Or it may be due to exploitative elites, typically in cahoots with the government, who block any improvement in economic condition that would threaten their power” Dani Rodrik – The Globalization Paradox  (p137) Rodrik was looking at reasons for poverty in poorer nations.

All told more than $3.2 billion was spent on lobbying in 2011 alone. The main distortion is to our political system; the main loser, our democracy” Joseph E Stiglitz (p119)

The pattern is clear, the political outcome of lobbying seldom works for the majority; as decisions are heavily influenced by interest groups. E.E.Schattschneider – The Semisovereign People   ibid (p483)

There are several other damning opinions I could add to those given but hopefully the point is made. Unfortunately, the material from which I got the quotes is not on the daily reading diet of the poor and poorly educated.

Ordinary Joe tends to rely on gut and experience, the latter a method favoured by Aristotle, to reach a conclusion. The poor may be marginalized but their brain has not ceased to work.

Dissatisfaction with the political class has grown over the decades to such an extent that, “…trust in Congress has fallen to historically low levels barely above double digits”. Ibid (p481) A similar point is made by Stiglitz (p117) that the rich have, “…become more distant from ordinary people”.

While these instances concern the American system they are readily transferable throughout the world. Perhaps, in understanding this ‘distance’ those who cannot grasp the seismic political upheaval called Brexit and the Trump victory can begin to comprehend that the ‘sleeper has awoken’!!

The Double Deal:

Backhander

Backhander

A good outline of the direct and moral corruption that is bought on a daily bases of lobbying can be read in Francis Fukuyama (p478) when he deals with ‘reciprocal altruism’. Basically, I give you a big contribution to your election fund and somewhere down the line, you do me a favour. It’s a fancy name for you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.

We are all aware of cronyism and nepotism and as distasteful as they are, we also know that they are an apron string around our lives. Who wouldn’t help a friend or look after one of our family when times are hard? However, when a similar thing happens at the top end of business its use is to maintain status and power, and to advance wealth.

That brings us back to the catch phrase noted by Suzanne McGee (p354) “…me first, me foremost, and only me”. The actions and statements of the rich are catalogued beside all the other pieces of exhibitionism that symbolizes their contempt for the poor. These are duly noted until a jigsaw has been completed and then contempt is fired back at those in power.

The notion that the poor lap up the display of wealth and the misnomer that their anger is only a form of jealousy is so out of place. The trite use of ‘jealousy’ was a smokescreen floated by the wealthy to browbeat the poor.

I refer back to the wisdom of Aristotle that experience is a solid learning tool; and experience is what the poor collect in abundance. The machine operator knows that they are producing wealth and have become aware that their share of the proceeds is hardly enough to survive on. Hence the ostentatious flirting of the rich does not engage their jealousy but their anger.

A Learning Curve?

Unfortunately, the harsh reality is as stated by Ralph Schosstein, a banker on Wall Street, “Memories fade faster on Wall Street than on Main Street”. (McGee p383) The lure of the big buck is so enticing it’s almost irresistible. For the big boys it’s their raison d’etre. It appears that nothing much has been learned since the build up to the 2008 crash that we are still suffering from.

“A few years ago various cunning bankers were sitting around on their fat arses scratching their sweaty balls wondering how they could make themselves even more disgustingly rich….so they started looking around and they spied a vast amount of poor Americans who hadn’t been allowed loans before…” Geraint Anderson, Cityboy (p307)

Soon the world economy collapsed and we had to bail them out!

Control of the financial sector should have been exercised by the government. However, government must be free of corruption. Hm! I’m reminded of a child’s nursery rhyme – the wheels on the bus go round and round…. Lobbying all day long!

In today’s society we need the money men but they also need us. We are both sides of the coin. What they need to understand is that wealth distribution is a key element in keeping the fabric of society on a harmonious path.

Many countries throughout the world are experiencing an upsurge in people power. In the UK and the USA the people have exercised their democratic rights to let the elite know that they too want to participate in the nation’s wealth. Let’s keep it democratic!

 

The Common Good and Trade Unions.

Europe is in the midst of an economic and social crisis, deepened by the migrant situation. At times like these we all tend to look at our own basket of goods and become a little self-oriented. However, throughout the ages, pioneers, our conscience, have tried to steer us in the direction of a better society. A society that does respect the right of the individual within a community made up of active and participatory citizens. And a goal of working towards a society that gives prominence to the notion of the common good.

This is an area were the Trade Union (TU) movement could take the lead. It has the resources and the organisation to have an immediate impact.

To speak of the common good is to open a can of worms for several reasons. Some philosophers will immediately jump up and scream of Utilitarianism (what’s best for the majority). Other politically minded servants of the present establishment will merely shout ‘bunkum’! Loudly, of course! Others on the left in politics will nod and add their wisdom; ‘good luck with that’. Those on the far left will raise their banner and advise; ‘call for revolution’!

Without doubt it is a tall order and needs a unity of purpose that has dissipated over the last few decades. Once there was a definite class aspect to politics but now it is much more diverse with ‘identity politics’ Fukuyama (p438) a whole host of interest groups pursuing their own campaign. In so doing the opposition to right-wing government’s has weakened considerably.

The poor have no champion. Once it was the Trade Union movement and then the Labour Party but both have been weakened over the past decades. To some the Labour party has lost its soul as it searched for credibility from the business class. The TU’s have never quite recovered from the Winter of Discontent of 1979 and the years of Thatcherism.

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_of_Discontent

Identity politics is a gift of huge magnitude for the 1 percent. As it disperses the opposition into small and at times, irrelevant bodies who shout a lot then drive home for a ready-made meal. Alternatively, they agree to meet at the out of town shopping centre (Mall) for a big mac. Here they castigate those who go to football matches, are at home watching TV or hanging around the betting shop all day. Meanwhile, other campaigners are demanding a halt to air pollution.

Individualism is the cry of the day by the horde that cannot see beyond the mirror. It is also the cry of the neo-liberal economists whose view is the predominant one and the voice of the austerity economic programme. These economists opine that we are all rational individuals that know what we want and act accordingly. But wait, pay heed to the wisdom of Ha-Joon Chang (p194):

“There cannot be such a thing as an individual without society”.

Contrast the ‘rational individual’ opinion with that of the philosopher Jürgen Habermas who suggests that the press feed us celebrity gossip and we behave as “mindless consumers”. The quest to be in fashion, regardless, that garment suits or not. The insistence, almost, of only wearing a designer item and having the name brazen across the garment. Leaves me in little doubt, I’m with Habermas!  www.britannica.com/biography/Jurgen-Habermas

Consider also the opinion of John Stuart Mill, “One whose desires and impulses are not his own, has no character, no more than a steam engine has no character.” Sandel (p51)

The Santa Clara University adopts a stance that the common good is unattainable because it’s in direct conflict with a pluralist society. And that a pluralist outlook is more in tune with our individualistic approach to life. Pluralism suggests that interest groups counter each other and thus create a political balance. I dealt with this issue on my previous post Europe: Moving Politically Right by quoting Francis Fukuyama that powerful interest groups with substantial funds seriously undermine democracy. www.scu.edu/ethics-resources/ethical-decision-making/the-common-good

Moreover, the common good and pluralism are not conflicting ideologies. One of the premier thinkers of pluralism Isaiah Berlin notes that we have to be thoughtful, listen carefully and sympathetically to the needs and wishes of others; therefore we are in the same ballpark. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluralism_(political_philosophy)

Furthermore, when we examine the philosophy of the neo-pluralists the political understanding is in tune with other thinkers, “the political agenda is biased towards corporate power”. This analysis gains wide support from Francis Fukuyama and others illustrates that we cannot rely solely on a balance of interests to aid democracy. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluralism_(political_theory)  In essence we need people power!

Jim Hightower is unequivocal: “The corporations don’t have to lobby the government any more. They are the government.” Chang (p172)

The Workers Struggle

The demise of class politics makes it more difficult, in some ways to create the environment to promote the common good. The sheer number of diverse groups with their niche political views means it’s harder to find common ground. Nonetheless, I believe it can be achieved, the philosopher John Rawls maintains that we can find, “certain general conditions that are [   ] equally to everyone’s advantage”. Sandel (p143) My list would be:

  • Free health care. An end to the slicing down of the NHS.
  • Clean Air Act. An approximate 40,000 deaths annually in UK.
  • A focus on good education for ALL.
  • Municipal community services, e.g. sports centres, swimming pools etc. What Michael Sandel (p243) refers to as the ‘infrastructure of civic life’.

This leads nicely onto the view of Karl Popper, as cited by Bryan Magee (p80)

“We must demand that unrestrained capitalism give way to economic interventionism”.

A view that finds resonance with Noam Chomsky, (p217) “…it’s ridiculous to talk about freedom in a society dominated by huge corporations”.

Building a powerful foundation for the common good would be a long term project. However, the TU movement has the wherewithal to be the standard bearer which can raise the issue of the common good, not as a political crusade but as an essential part of everyday life.

To achieve this end the TU’s would have to stand independent of the Labour Party on this specific agenda to reach as wide an audience as possible. The Labour party has not done much for the working class since 1945. The economy and what’s best for business has dominated their thinking.

A Potted History

Back in 1969 the then Prime Minister (PM) Harold Wilson tried to introduce laws to limit TU activity and hold wages down – In Place of Strife. Ironically, his plans were scuppered by James Callaghan, who ten years later would attempt something very similar when he broke the 1974 Social Contract agreement which lead to the Winter of Discontent 1979.

It proved to be a disaster for the Labour Party. Callaghan had made several errors of judgment which lead to the electoral victory of Margaret Thatcher.

Eighteen years later, and with most of the gains of 1945 privatized (A beautifully orchestrated hoodwink of the populace). In came Tony Blair, and the expectation, was that he would rescind the anti-union laws that had been enacted by Thatcher’s governments. Not a finger lifted!

www.libcom.org/history/1978-1979-winter-of-discontent

www.news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7598366.stm

The poor have gained very little from the Labour Party except for numerous platitudes. The TU’s also stand bereft, constrained by the power of the law while successive governments have allowed unrestrained capitalism. More privatization, welfare cuts and some 800,000 + zero hours contracts; the poor continue to pay for the banking crisis.

Here then, is a new recruitment drive for the TU’s; a fight for the common good. A simple programme that few could disagree with but with the powerful message that we should all gain from the wealth created. The TU’s are in a strong position to organise local and national meetings to promote the single agenda.

thVWJRZYWDHowever, if I were a member of the 1% I would not be too worried as too many high ranking Union officials are in a position to declare, ‘I’m alright Jack’. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) are trapped in their mindset, “the way we help business” in its opening blurb. The very strong Stalinist tendencies of the Left in politics suggest that they would want to dictate policy as viewed from their particular bent. www.tuc.org.uk

I revert back to Popper to put them in the picture:

“The fact that change is never going to stop renders the very notion of a blueprint for a good society nonsensical,” Magee (p116).

This then is the prime reason we cannot have a list of demands to suit every possible group with a political agenda. Moreover, it should not develop into a left V right shoot out at the OK corral. The common good is for the benefit of the community as a whole e.g. clean air!

“The environment is mine,” said the individual.

“And mine!” said another.

“Ours,” said their sister. It’s time we bound hands.

But first let us begin our campaign with an online petition whereby those who sign up, agree, that they will only vote for the political party that commits to enforcing the policy in the next parliament.

Colour doesn’t matter, policy does!   Power is the peoples.

Do some good – join Robin Hood.

Ha-Joon Chang      Economics: The User’s Guide.

Noam Chomsky     How the World Works.

Bryan Magee         Popper.

Michael Sandel      Justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Affirmative Action: A Dodo in the Nest

Banksy

Banksy

Affirmative action was introduced in the USA in the 1960s in an attempt to address previous discrimination. To this day it is a very controversial topic with clear political divisions. Arguments range from the common good to forcing some to accept the sins of the father.

It is an emotive subject which brings bias bursting out as a good kick at a wasps nest might do. Was it a purely political decision to calm and contain the fervour of the period, with the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement?  If that is the case then the opposition can claim it had an inherent bias. Others will argue that the Kennedy period was a progressive one.

An important question arises as to whether we can ever right the wrongs of the past. America was a politically divided society then and, things ain’t changed much. Bryan Magee suggests an answer, “[I]f all individuals have equal moral claims it is wrong to sacrifice one generation to the next.”1

However, Noam Chomsky takes a different view when he states that anyone opposing affirmative action is accepting the ‘oppressive’ and ‘discriminatory’ measures of the past. He is 100% wrong! He himself hints at problems when he says “…you find plenty of things to criticize.” 2

A very important point is raised by Chomsky that affirmative action should not, “…harm poor people who don’t happen to be in the categories designated for support.” (p211) That’s probably most of the poorest in society.

The issue of poverty is raised by Michael Sandel when he cites the case of Cheryl Hopwood. 3 This was a young woman raised by a single parent who worked her way through the education system. She gained the appropriate grades and applied to the Texas Law School. Her application was turned down. It emerged that students from minority backgrounds with less impressive scores all gained entrance. Hopwood who is white thought her rejection was unfair; she took the university to court. She lost.

The university won its case by citing its affirmative action policy which committed it to accepting about 15% of entrants from a minority background. A quota? At the time African Americans and Mexican Americans accounted for about 40% of the population of Texas.

That the law sanctioned affirmative action does not by itself make it logical or just. A legal mind is also subject to a political outlook; hence each elected president attempts to have the Supreme Court at least balanced if not skewed in their favour. Political bias can sway the greatest minds e.g. Plato – closed society and Aristotle – slavery.

And so it would seem with legal judgements on affirmative action:

  • 1996 US Court of Appeals ruled that affirmative action could not be a factor on admission decisions as it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
  • 2003 US Supreme Court upheld that affirmative action can be applied as a mechanism by a vote of 5-4.
  • 2014 US Supreme Court ruled that voters can prohibit affirmative action in public universities by 6 – 2.

It might just be me but I detect some political bias at play in these decisions or am I just being politically biased.

To return to the Hopwood case, it would seem to me that she fitted the criteria that the system should not ‘harm poor people’ as suggested by Chomsky. I am also intrigued by the description of affirmative action by the National Conference of State Legislatures,

“In institutions of higher education affirmative action refers to admission policies that provide equal access to education for those groups that have been historically excluded or underrepresented, such as women and minorities.” 4

I suspect that that was written after the Hopwood case.

The rational of affirmative action is to create a ‘more equitable and just society for the future’ Chomsky, (p211) and to advance ‘a socially worthy aim’ Sandel (p171); who could argue with these sentiments. But is this what Popper would describe as ‘piecemeal social engineering’ (PSE)? Magee (107) And can PSE be justified on any grounds, some may consider it a close relative to fascism. This may seem rather strong but can manipulation ever be justified.

In recent years countries of Europe have taken a different stance: the UK has a clear policy that any discrimination, quotas, or favouritism is illegal. Sweden passed a law in 2012 that says that all students must face the same requirements for entry. 5 This draws us back to the view of Popper and Magee.

A more equitable society would doubtless benefit everyone. However, in implementing affirmative action was it the hope or intention that the minority candidates would emerge to become ambassadors for their ethnic body.

An alternative view would be that they take the money and run. Will they remain in the

Need we say more?

Need we say more?

neighbourhood – unlikely? If successful are they more likely to move to a nice suburb and join the country club – likely, if they have a wad of dollars. A further alternative view is that Hopwood being female and from a modest background would also understand the concept of barriers and may have become a better, stronger advocate of human rights than her minority counterparts.

Perhaps, all along, the plan was to build a middle class of the minority population and thereby secure the future of the system. A new Praetorian Guard? The World Values Survey study by Ronald Inglehart, suggests that the middle class and working class tend to drift apart on most issues. 6

The drift between the classes is no doubt due in part to income differentials, the gap is growing wider and this gets reflected in the social and educational environment. Which basically means that the poor get crapped on from on high. As a society we are pulling apart and as we do so tension grows. Not just between the rich and poor but also in ethnic terms, it’s the old survival syndrome.

When positing the idea that America could become a color-free country Chomsky sadly admits, “I don’t think it’s going to happen”. (p122) The question is why not? There is no political will to rock the boat of the capitalist system. Politicians may do a lot of tinkering but never advocate a serious shift away from the super rich. Politicians are dominated by the theory of the market but perhaps Ha-Joon Chang can open up a new avenue for exploration:

“The economy is much bigger than the market. We will not be able to build a good economy – or a good society – unless we look at the vast expanse beyond the market” 7

We don’t need the overthrow of the system just a better use of the available resources. Joseph Stiglitz highlights one glaring example of where progress can be made when writing about university entrance “Only around 9% come from the bottom half of the population, while 74% come from the top quarter”. 8 Francis Fukuyama also suggests that education is a key to the future. (p451)

Many writers point to the uncertainty that grows with the gap in inequality. In the long-term democracy may be in danger. Thus making politicians more accountable and responsive to the electorate is crucial for the health of a nation.

The new media, the net and social media can play a significant role in opening a discussion with ordinary Joe. A blog that addresses serious issues in a language that all can access may promote greater participation. This would be enhanced by powerful names being associated with the writing. It may generate an army of opposition but then you know it’s working.

Common good thinkers must come from behind their intellectual retreat and reach out to the citizenry. Otherwise they might wither behind their curtain with their frustration, pipe and slippers.

Do some good join Robin Hood!

  1. Popper Bryan Magee (p103) + (107)
  2. How the World Works (p212) + (122)
  3. Justice What’s the Right Thing to Do? Michael J. Sandel (p167) + (p171)
  4. www.ncsl.org/research/
  5. www.en.m.wikipedia.org
  6. Political Order and Political Decay Francis Fukuyama (p 441) + (451)
  7. Economics: The User’s Guide Ha-Joon Chang (p456)
  8. The Price of Inequality Joseph E. Stiglitz (p24)
  9. www.upoak.com