11. Fears of Change

The fear of change is a fickle one. At one moment people are excited and want change and the next instant they are most fearful of it. Individually, men and women seek to cultivate something new and different and at the very same time want to save their familiar image in the mirror.

Fear of the dark unknown, of the possible disaster lurking, is as old as mankind. The threat of an economic meltdown makes people yearn for the status quo. They want to say “STOP” to change. However, change is both inevitable and all around us. We live in a rapidly transforming and globalizing time in which scientific and technological breakthroughs are overwhelming not only our past traditions but also our very mood and thought patterns. The French proverb, “The more it changes, the more it remains the same,” is in many ways being turned on its head. The more discoveries are made in bio-technology or advances are made in robotics, the more we are affected; the more our lives change.

Lucretius, one of my heroes from antiquity, wrote back in 57 BC (at a time of rising Roman power) that “One nation rises to supreme power in the world while another declines, and in a brief space of time the sovereign people change, transmitting, like Marathon racers, the torch of life to some other that is to succeed them.”1 In this way little has changed: The British are becoming accustomed to their fall from Imperial grace, the Chinese are looking forward to global predominance, and Americans are beginning to feel insecure about their iffy-place in the world.

The United States, being a relatively youthful nation, has always been led by people optimistically seeking improvement. However, at present they are expressing anxiety about their direction and the prospects of change: for example, the birthrate of Latino-Americans is altering demographics … which may ultimately alter politics. No matter how the ultra-conservatives oppose such change, in a few years the Latino vote is likely to switch Texas into the democratic column and the Republican party will be facing radical change. Some observers may contend that it already is doing so.

The United Kingdom (which is likely to remain united despite the forthcoming vote on Scottish independence) is an old but rapidly changing country whose citizens prefer to look back nostalgically — even if life in the time of Dickens was far harder for the Brits of that era. A large proportion of the Tory party members are upset by the inflow of workers from Eastern Europe and by the large number of new citizens from India and Pakistan who are not adapting to the British way of life. These conservatives are unsettled by gay marriage and find the speed of change produced by the internet hard to follow. Sites like YouTube, Facebook, tumblr, not to mention the plethora of pornographic options, have arrived too quickly for a nation to digest. Ultimately, even in terms of the physical state of this island, they find the steady erosion of what had made England a “green and pleasant land” unacceptable.

In the US, on matters demanding change, like gun control, the rising prison population, fracking, or even sorting out health care, there is little in-depth debate. Great effort is made to avoid contentious issues in social discourse. Americans want to avoid the confrontations that inevitably accompany change.  The media, as they pursue the “new” and the “different”, also do not like doubt and are fostering an “all or nothing”, “with us or against us” mentality. FOX news with its generally slanted approach, for example, is out to get an audience rather than informing one.

I have long been intrigued by the extent to which Americans are exposed to intentional distortion of the facts on issues to which certain groups are opposed, such as global warming or health care. When Obama was trying to push through ways to change the spiraling costs of the health care industry, he was opposed by a most formidable array: the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, a vast assemblage of lawyers protecting the hundreds of thousands of private doctors, Washington’s lobbying industry which was spending well in excess of $150 million a year on this particular issue, large sections of the media controlled by the wealthy opponents to change, and not only the Republican Party but even Democrats in Congress who were in the pay of lobbyists. Faced with such anti-change forces, it seemed incredible that Obama even got a diluted version of his Health Care bill passed.

It was no surprise that given the vociferous scale of these opponents, every effort was made to malign Britain’s National Health Service. The goal was to instill the fear of “godless” socialism creeping in via socialist medical practices. The outright distortions, misrepresentations, and falsehoods of the media as well as those of politicians was astounding. The NHS was portrayed as the home of eugenics, death panels, euthanasia, and a rampant state bureaucracy controlling every aspect of medical care. The forceful negative campaign was not only based on the propaganda techniques of Dr. Joseph Goebbels — it copied them outright. The danger of such practice is that the opposition to change becomes so distorted that this itself introduces change in the national perception.

In this time of economic uncertainty, the same scenario holds true. Criticism capitalism is taboo. Fear of capitalsm’s possible collapse simply freezes the possibility of presenting alternatives which it is feared  would inevitably lead to massive change.

So ambivalence triumphs: the need for change, whether it be in the environment,  economics, or politics is evident, but the fear of change pervades. So does the uncertainty which presently accompanies the subsequent lack of clear decisions. And the situation is not going to improve. We are moving into an ever more artificial, electronic and computerized world which conflicts with our basic physiological and psychological evolution over the millenia.  Irrespectively, the fundamental curiosity, rebelliousness, and the almost built-in desire for change on the part of the young will continue to divide coming generations. Whatever the ultimate outcome, it is unlikely that we shall be able to resolve the wired fears in our genetic make-up as human beings.2

1Lucretius, “De rerum natura II
2See: Yorick Blumenfeld, Towards the Millenium: Optimistic Visions for Change, (1996)

10. Opposite Sex Economics

I am writing this entry because I believe women might really be good at rethinking the very basis of our failed economic system. A new approach to resolving our current economic problems is essential. We have to get out of the box into which we have packed ideological economics.

Women endorse a more socially just way of living in harmony with the natural world. They try not to let economic problems rule their lives or dictate their choices. They frequently give voice to greater income equality and sharing. They generally endorse sustainability, a greener economy and embrace life support systems not only for children but also for air, water and land. Above all they are more flexible in their positioning.1

Men have proven themselves to be excessively rigid. Perhaps this is just a physiological inevitability? In the UK, for example, David “Bedroom Tax” Cameron has been unable to shift his stance on austerity despite the widespread criticism of economists and the widespread suffering of the population.

Women, as opposed to men, are not opposed to a larger role for the government in managing the economy. They generally do not consider the economy as being over-regulated. But they are troubled by the fact that such an economic power-house as Goldman Sachs has almost no women at top levels of management and at the same time can place these men at the top levels of government and banking not only in the United States but in many other countries as well.

The general lack of acceptance by men of the views of women when it comes to economics is rather startling. Contentious females, like Naomi Klein and Naomi Wolf, both of whom write wonderful books (which I openly admire) analyzing the dangerous direction in which our global societies are moving, are not listened to (or read) by many men. Neither of these Naomis is an economist — they are more into sociology — but both believe the  overly intense focus by elected officials on economic policy to resolve problems of population changes, global warming, or growth is not tenable.

Curiously, although open-market trading has often been dominated by women and still is in countries like Nigeria, men — starting with Adam Smith — have dominated economics since its very beginning as a dismal science. Back in 1898, the American sociologist and writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman suggested “the economic independence and specialization of women as essential.”2 Gilman proclaimed that “When the mother of the race is free, we shall have a better world, by the easy right of birth and by the calm, slow, friendly forces of evolution.”

Two generations later, Joan Robinson one of the foremost female economists of the 20th Century (whom I had the honor to know in Cambridge) asserted somewhat cynically that “The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.” Being a devoted Marxist, which caused her to be dismissed by the predominantly American-dominated schools of economic scholarship, she claimed that “The fundamental differences between Marxian and traditional orthodox economics are, first, that the orthodox economists accept the capitalist system as part of the eternal order of Nature, while Marx regards it as a passing phase in the transition from the feudal economy of the past to the socialist economy of the future.3

A generation later, Naomi Klein, writing from her outlook as a Canadian observed that “A term like capitalism is incredibly slippery, because there’s such a range of different kinds of market economies. Essentially, we’ve been debating over what parts of the economy are not suitable to being decided by the profit motive.” She pointed out that in the United States, Canadian ideas on unsuitable areas for the profit motive, like firefighting, were simply absent from male dominated discussion.4

A broader female perspective on our global economic structure has been given by the sociologist Naomi Wolf : “The economics of industrialized countries would collapse if women didn’t do the work they do for free: According to economist Marilyn Waring, throughout the West it generates between 25 and 40 percent of the gross national product.”4

Christiane Lagarde, as the first female head of the IMF, has said that “The financial industry is a service industry. It should serve others before it serves itself.” But then she was never an economist. Discussing global finance she has said that “left to themselves men are apt to make a mess of things.”

The male dominated world finds it hard to accept the logical consequence of such female declarations. Re-directing the economy to accommodate these positions would require  more radical rethinking than they are willing to contemplate.

I also want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that women collectively or individually cannot make grave economic errors. Margaret Thatcher was as inflexible as any man. She shifted the UK economy from being a manufacturing and merchandising one into one which became dependent on the banking strength of The City (of London). She also privatized large sectors of the economy such as the railroads, British Airways, British Telecom etc., and crippled Britain’s mining industry. The UK is now suffering because of her often brash and narrowly motivated political decisions.

Generally women, unlike men, try not to let economic problems rule their lives or dictate their own choices. They are eager to express their appreciation of joy in life. Perhaps that is ultimately what is most missing in the continuing gray-suited image of all those long-faced males still directing the global mishandling of economic policies. Consequently I am proposing that one of the truly radical economic alternatives open to us is to give women the opportunity to bring a breath of fresh air into the global economic atmosphere.

2Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
3Joan Robinson, Essays in the Theory of Economic Growth,1963, p. 1.
4Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, 2007
4Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women, 1991

9. JOBS! J O B S !! J O B S !!!

It’s not the deficits, stupid!   It’s Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!

Nobody seems to be getting the universal message: Globalized capitalism is not going to create the millions of jobs that are now needed for the world’s young. The Economist, in its April 27th cover titled “Generation Jobless” declared that “there are few worse things that society can do to its young than to leave them in limbo.”

But the Economist fails to come to grips with the problem. In its inadequate leader, the  editors suggest reigniting growth, deregulating labor markets, and improving education and training. What their mantra doesn’t even consider is the structural failure of the market economy in an era of revolutionary transformation of the means of communications (the internet) and production (automation and robotics). As to re-igniting growth, this may be artificially plausible in the short term, but in the long term the driving force of the rapidly increasing populations which dominated  20th century economies can never be repeated.

The globalized market is today dominated by corporations. These are focused on creating profits not jobs. The corporate managers calculate that automation is more profitable than workers. So overall, they hire less and fire more in the name of “efficiency.” The ultimate result is that world-wide corporate profits are rising but more than 300 million young people are without employment.

Corporations have been undergoing what economists call “creative destruction. Much of this is at the expense of the younger generation.” “Downsizing” and “out-sourcing” for the sake of greater efficiency does not produce new jobs. Drastic cut-backs in training programs have been the case in both the US and the UK. Companies have come to regard that filling jobs is just like buying spare parts — management expects them to fit and are not concerned about any long-term warranty.

The rich who control the corporations are wary of change, much as the French nobility was at the time of the French Revolution of 1789. The politicians are nervous too because they know their tenure will be limited if they cannot “re-ignite” their national economies.  And the economists are divided: is the answer to the mounting global debts austerity or even more debts? There is consequently little chance for real reform.

Blighting the lives of so many young jobless certainly spells future disasters: mass violence, terrorism, the end of democracy, military dictatorships, or blood-stained anarchy. The pathetic lack of a rational program by those staging the impressive sit-ins on Wall Street and at St. Paul’s last year showed how those with a desire for reform were unable to present clear alternatives.

I tried to present a few clear steps which ought to be taken. My radical proposal focused on the urgent need to legally transform ALL corporations into cooperatives. Such an overhaul would mean that the workers would own the shop rather than the shareholders. The time has come to end the economic domination of corporations whose subversion of democracy has been well-documented. Yes, as cooperatives their operations would be less efficient, competitive, or focused on profits. However, the members would be more concerned with jobs, training, the impact on the environment and the long-term prospects. Morality could once again play a role in economic life. I presented this in great detail in Dollars or Democracy (2003), citing Mondragon in Spain, the John Lewis Partnership in the UK, and UPS in the US as partial role-models.

A vast re-ordering of our economic perspective should follow:  An acceptance of the importance and benefits of state management, for example. Privatization of national companies, like British Rail, British Telecom, British Airways and now its likely takeover of the UK Post Office, has resulted in profit for the very few but has not created significantly more jobs for the nation.

Of course reforms which tend to expand government expenditures, are bitterly opposed by those on the extreme right, such as the Tea Party backers in the US and the right wing of the Tory party in the UK, because they inevitably expand the role of government and reduce the power of the private sector. Here the choice, as far as unemployment among the young is concerned, becomes a highly political one. Few corporations will either hire or train youths just out of school.1 So who is going to create these millions jobs but the state?

In my blog on Mentoring in February I suggested that governments around the world introduce Mentorships for young people as a way to give them a positive start in life. Many readers have replied to me that this is a positive step they endorse — but the media have not taken it up. (The BBC apparently considered it but without follow-up until now.) Altering the unpaid, charity aspects of mentoring into an officially recognized wage earning profession could swiftly take the stigma of unemployment from millions of young people and give them highly useful social roles early in life. Creating meaningful new jobs must become a universally accepted social responsibility. We owe that to the next generation.

1″A more entrepreneurial British economy may have worsened the problem. The share of private sector employees at big firms (with 250 or more workers) fell from 50% to 40% over the past decade.”  “Generation jobless,” The Economist, April 27, 2013, p. 60