FACING UP TO TOMORROW’S CHANGES

Let’s face it: The technologic/economic world we have created is threatening our very survival. Mental and physical pollution together with artificial intelligence, robots and ever increasing numbers of nuclear weapons are on a global rise.

The driving influence behind the extraordinary flow of scientific breakthroughs is a global economy based on money, greed, unequal profits, perpetual growth and uncontrolled technological advances. Creativity, spirituality and cooperation are limited. How can such off-kilter trends lead to anything but disaster?

What is the propeller of this situation? Money. As long as people work principally for money, the economic structure will be focused on competition, controlling costs, profits, corruption and novelty such as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. No capable economist has come up with realistic resolutions to this threatening situation.

It is important to recognize that money has evolved in gradual stages from natural objects such as cowry shells, then into metal coins to circumvent the inconvenience of barter, from there into paper, followed by cheques and now into electronic signals that debit one account and credit another. That’s where credit cards come in. When priests were in power, temples issued money. When kings ruled, they had the sovereign right to coin money, and when nation states rose to the top in the 19th century, national currencies prevailed. Today we are at the edge of global money. While money is, in effect, no more than a token of symbolic information or social agreement which facilitates exchange, it has lost none of its mystique over the centuries. More than ever we tend to view money as having near magical powers on which both women and men rely to give them the gloss of significance and appeal. Money, more than talent, virtue or ability is generally regarded as a sign of social power and desirability.

This money world, alas, knows no limits. It has become itself a commodity for speculation. Currency and futures trading, as well as Bitcoin and other crytocurrencies, have overwhelmed most financial transactions. However large the profits today, more are demanded tomorrow. As such a complex system based on trust, rules and the law gradually loses its stability, another system of values and derivatives are most likely to replace it.

Work and jobs (employment) present related but different challenges. Work on ordinary tasks is being taken over by Robotic Process Automation (R.P.A.) at an ever faster rate. A common example of such take-overs is to be seen at the self-checkout machines in our grocery stores. Automation in white-collar work places will take over bit by bit: “We think any business process can be automated,” said Jason Kingdon the chief executive of Blue Prism, a robotic process automation company. According to the New York Times, Kingdon tells industry that between half and two-thirds of all the tasks currently being done in companies could be handed over to machines right now. 1

The McKinsey corporation, which had predicted before the pandemic that 37 million American workers would be displaced by automation by the end of this decade, now has raised this prediction to 45 million. Bloomberg recently headlined that “A Goldman Trading Desk That Once Had 500 People Is Down to Three.” This means that Goldman directors now recognize that robots can replace many of its top institutional traders. Robots definitely require less space, attention, expense, and use-up less emotional energy on the trading floor.

For corporate executives, many robotic automations are becoming compatible with their existing systems at a lower cost. They purport automation streamlines will “liberate workers” from dull and repetitive tasks and also “liberate” numbers of union protesters from their jobs. For these administrators, robots save time, expenses (such as water coolers) and even help the environment by cutting down on poisonous air-conditioners.

Education is also being transformed not so much by robots as by laptops, tablets, computers and apps powered by AI. All this information technology has been able to adjust many lessons to the abilities of students more quickly and exactly than might their struggling teachers. The coming robotic revolution in the classroom is already being prepared on the invasive internet with its Zooms, Tweets and smart-phones. Robots will be able to handle quizzes and grade results although mistakes and cheating may become more common. Expectations are that robots will gradually increase in numbers throughout the vast world of education.

What we are seeing is that little is currently being done to provide job training for the millions of workers who were displaced by the pandemic or who already had been forced out of work by automation. In President Biden’s $4 trillion dollars of programs to boost the US economy, no program was specifically earmarked to train the mass of those who were made jobless by technology. Moreover, we are now seeing how many personnel in the armed forces, such as those in the infantry, are being replaced by less fragile automation. Robots are not far away from the battlefield.

WHERE ARE WE HEADED when we face this march of the robots? Work and jobs have been essential to humans ever since we left the caves. We mostly embraced progress and practical advances ever since the “discovery” of the wheel. Now, some 15,000 or so years later, work and life have become interchangeable. Technology has passed on us its astounding advances … but where will this end? This is as bewildering as the notion that “… the margins of profitability in cloud computing are tightening with Google’s tilt at the AWS/Azure quasi-duopoly pushing down prices,” The Economist wrote a month ago.2

Biotechnology is certainly feeding guesswork for our planet. The launch of CRISPR gene editing is now at the level of what transistors once were to electronics. It has already entered into the field of endemic vaccines. It will soon be opening fantastic new biological potentialities such as transforming pigs into organ donors for human transplants or for editing the genes of defective babies.

Denials of such dangers are common on all fronts:  For example, the American electorate cannot accept that it has “the most expensive, least effective health care in the world and that the most vulnerable have been paying for that failure with their lives.”3 Nor can this electorate accept that “Tech giants” like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are competing over the privacy of data and the cookies of their customers. Denial is so widespread that there has been little federal or parliamentary legislation restricting the manifest intrusions, such as cookies, into the privacy of the users of their computers, mobiles and smartphones.

I sense that the invasion of digitally based techs is without any comprehensive plan. This is pushing dislocations in our economies, our lives and ultimately our very existence. Such deep challenges, augmented by the unpredictable changes in our environment, are mounting – as is their perpetual denial by the admirers of Donald Trump.

Political denials of the introduction of Universal Basic Incomes may be inevitable but our very existence may become ever less in demand in the years ahead. It is important that workers and their families will know that there will be a flexible safety net, like Basic Incomes, for them. I believe that our world needs to create a new global system much as the victors of WWII did in launching social welfare programs with widespread benefits to guard against poverty and to provide for education as well as national health care for the masses.

The economic expert, Mark Carney, in a recent article in the FT titled “A new dawn for globalization,” tried to tackle the mounting concerns about the longevity of our economies. What Carney superficially offers are four pillars of his new order: “resilience, solidarity, connectivity and sustainability.” Carney admits that “In too many places, globalization and breakthrough technologies mean low wages, insecure employment and widening inequality.” He cautions that: “As a society, we need to choose to be ‘digital by design’ leveraging new technologies to create new jobs and better communities — rather than ‘digital by default’, letting technology drive our choices.”4

Earlier in this century I proposed a detailed program for an alternative to capitalism which featured a cashless, highly technological credit card system. Dollars or Democracy (2004) was praised without receiving the desired attention of academic economists nor that of self-promoting politicians. My desire in this book was to present a more profound social and economic program to change our global economic structure. You may disagree with its basis but our planet desperately needs a broader and more creative approach … not robots.

A quick but deeper look at the word “work” that has had such an extraordinary evolution of meanings through the centuries, is important in showing how our economic and societal basics can change, can be brought up to date.

Manual work, or labor, in the Greek classical era had deep pejorative connotations. To Plato’s school “work” was opposite to thinking and much desired “contemplation.” To Aristotle, the very making and knowledge of material things was just for slaves and the servile.

For Judaism (and later on in Christianity) mankind was condemned to labor and hard work to expiate Adam’s original sin (Genesis). Goods or economic activity were absolutely insufficient for man’s salvation without God’s recognition.

A thousand years later, in the Middle Ages, the mechanical and the manual were brought together in worship by Catholics.

In the Renaissance which followed, the excellence of man was praised for his efficient and effective diligence both as a worker or as an artist. The great Leonardo da Vinci declared that “the works that the eye orders the hand to make are infinite.” This approach demanded a new and original perception of progress and civilization to rise irrespective of whether it was manual or intellectual.

Luther in his Protestant Revolution pushed “work” as a service to God. “For God is present in such matters and his spirit in the work” whether it is servile or the housemaid’s.

Calvinism went further by suggesting that our conduct for the greater glory of God would be rewarded by our success. The production of goods would be multiplied by the hands of the elect whose infinite production was in praise of God.

Francis Bacon was the thinker to whom we owe much of the fresh perspective that science and technology are the means of advancement of humans committed to labors that are persistently renewed yet never sufficient. Work became one of the reasons for living. The “mechanical arts” of the industrial revolution gained meaning and prestige from the positive results of the sciences.

Our new world came through the machines and the mechanical approach to work in the Industrial Revolution. Work became the necessity for all to make their own living. Employment became a demand of meaning for life for the masses.

With Karl Marx the economy became based on the productivity of labor which ultimately determine value and gave all goods most of their value. Utility was on the way to become one of the economy’s supreme values. However, he did consider the need for the greater economic equality for women. This had considerable impact in Russia after the 1917 Revolution.

Only in the 1970s, after a strike by women, did Iceland become the first nation to introduce employment equality of the sexes. Sweden may be the next to recognize pressure by its electorate.

I passionately believe that we must change the global direction of “work” which mostly ignores the unpaid labors of half of the world’s adults: females. Isn’t it overdue in the 21st century that we recognize the unpaid labor that is demanded of women? The variety is mostly focused on the home and the family:

  • Raising and educating children
  • Housekeeping and the well-being of the family
  • Shopping for food
  • Gardening
  • Cooking
  • Nursing the aged and the ill

These categories are work intensive but not respected as paid “jobs.” National states make little compensation to women thus occupied – often full-time.5

In conclusion, I believe we must explore bold and imaginative alternatives which could open up new, more economically egalitarian, cooperative prospects for living, thinking and being. Our economics are treacherous and we must move society away from the competitive world of materialism (which Adam Smith warned of 200+ years ago) and towards a more responsible, spiritual, creative and community-oriented democratic existence. All human social systems are of a transitory nature. None are eternal or absolute, but evolve or adapt over time. The time for such genuine social, economic, and political international transformations has come. It is NOW!

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1Kevin Roose, “The robots are coming” The New York Times, March 17, 2021.

2“Collusion and collisions,” The Economist, February 27, 2021, p.58

3Jeneen Interlandi, “Job-based health care, meets high unemployment,” The New York Times, July 7, 2020

4Carney was the governor of the Bank of England, and is now the special envoy of the World Bank on climate action and finance. He cautions that the global investment required over the next three decades in controlling our climates will be around $100 trillion!

5Zoe Williams, “Work till you drop?”, The Guardian, April 22, 2021

THE STRUGGLES BETWEEN TRUTH AND LIES

Until our 21st Century, the perspective in the western world had been that the truth was more powerful than lies. The defeat of Hitler in 1945 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 had been triumphs for truth. A shift came suddenly with the introduction of social media and the rapid rise of the Tea Party in the United States which, with its normalization of persistent lying, called into question the status of truth.

“Our ability to lie, but not necessarily our ability to tell the truth, belongs among the few obvious, demonstrable data that confirm human freedom,” wrote that outstanding thinker, Hannah Arendt, but “freedom is abused and perverted through mendacity.”1

Awareness of “the lie” arose with the very beginnings of human speech over 12,000 years ago. A more philosophical understanding of “the truth” began with the rising Greek civilization with Homer who, in the Iliad (c. 800 BC), chose to sing that “Zeus gives no aid to liars.” His Homeric impartiality then inspired the first great teller of facts, Herodotus, who became the father of history. Jewish considerations about truth and lying became evident around the time of King Solomon with the Proverbs in the Old Testament: “He that speaks the truth shows righteousness: but a false witness, deceit.” (chapter 12.17) and then “The lip of truth shall be established for eternity; but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” (chapter 12.19, c. 587 BC).

The exceptional advances of the great Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle turned the concept of truth into the central question of theoretical philosophy. This helped us to distinguish reality from appearance and true from false. I feel embarrassed to rush past the various fields of philosophy within Greek schools from which evolved logic as well as ethics and physics from their deep common root in the challenges of truth. The Sophists, for example, denied the Platonic doctrine in the possibility of a universal truth, while in Aristotle’s scholasticism truth consisted essentially in the agreement between thinking and being. Endless books have been written discussing these approaches, but I have to be simpler in this blog and more direct.

By the time of the Romans, Cicero advanced: “We give no credit to a liar even when he speaks the truth.” Later, after the Middle Ages, Martin Luther was to preach that “A liar is far worse and does greater mischief than a murderer on the highway; for a liar and false teacher deceives people, seduces souls, and destroys them.”2

The rise of science during the Renaissance established the importance of truth in the sciences. Hannah Arendt wrote late in her life that “Only with the rise of Puritan morality, coinciding with the rise of organized science (whose progress had to be assured on the firm ground of the absolute veracity and reliability of every scientist), were lies considered serious offences.”

Truth rarely has been regarded as offensive, although on many occasions people may have wanted to deny it. Facing the truth or accepting reality may present a difficult challenge. The truth has been expected of leaders and counted on for political stability but seldom has contributed to change. Although lies and deceit are often at the core of power, truth itself is at the basis of stability. This disparity explains the long conflict between the two in politics.

Truth also questions opinion as a way of establishing validity. “Seen from the viewpoint of politics, truth has a despotic character,” wrote Arendt. “It is therefore hated by tyrants, who rightly fear the competition of a coercive force they cannot monopolize, and it enjoys a rather precarious status.” Indeed, when it comes to public perception there are dividing lines between facts, opinion and interpretation. Indeed in politics, the latter two are often in conflict with factual truth which can then be regarded as apolitical.

Lies have always been seen as ready tools of eager politicians and demagogues. The audience of the liar is likely to be more persuaded by his fashioning of the facts than they are by the truth-teller with his cold statistics. The greater the popular response, the more likely that the successful liar will begin to believe his own fabrications. Such self-deception tends to create an illusion of truthfulness for the audience. Ultimately, as we have seen with Trump, the scope of the lies can be so vast that they are the making of an alternative reality. Trump was fully aware that his lies on Twitter, Fox News or Facebook had a much greater impact than the consequent media denials or fact checking. While there was a link between malice and real deception, his lies were also effective in installing fear.

The result of such campaigns was not only that the US was swept by a tsunami of misinformation, but also that it legitimized lying as an acceptable political expression. Significantly, the Republican Senators themselves became afraid of the truth. In his latest autobiography, A Promised Land, Obama was dismayed by the truth decay America is experiencing. This has led to such a distrust of institutions that nearly half the population no longer has an idea of what is true.

Until Hitler in the 1930s no one had ever thought that organized lying transmitted by radio could be such a powerful weapon against truth. 90 years later, television, mobiles and the social media had enhanced the distribution of lies and lying in an exponential fashion. At the same time falsehoods and fakes have multiplied with the rise of social extremes which in turn have divided the nation. With the assistance of a compliant right-wing media to spread misinformation, Trump worked to create a mental hemisphere for his admirers and supporters. Trump’s steady, daily flow of lies were effective in disconnecting an extensive minority who didn’t know any better. Trump also turned his opponents into “traitors”, socialists, and “scheming subversives.” Such verbal distortions were created to end political dialogue and polarize truth itself, but also were powerfully exposed by Michael Gerson of The Washington Post.3

For four years the American people were subjected to the blatant pathological liar that Trump actually was. Gerson kept track of the exceptional record of the flow of lies: More than 20,000 falsehoods in 48 months. However it is unlikely that Trump could have defined which were his creations and which had come from Fox News, Russian reports, Newsmax or other dubious sources like the gossip of his right-wing employees.

Psychologists and psychiatric experts had long claimed that Trump was subject to the personality disorder of a pathological liar. Such misfits struggle with anxiety. Their lies are a way of protecting themselves and may be utilized to gain status and manipulate others. They exhibit high levels of self-assurance that also help them to lie with verbal fluency. Combined with a high degree of narcissism, deceivers like Trump also tend to believe they had achieved high levels of mental perfection. This, combined with clever social deceptions and a steady flow of lies, enabled omitting any inconvenient truths.

The impact of such a 4-year term of lies and deceits by the President of the United States has had pernicious consequences. Lying promoted by the media has taken on epidemic proportions. Sadly, little has been done to combat this. Since then promoting the truth has yet to reduce lying, however I would like to see the popular reactions if the social media were to point out all the lies or prevarications. Well before he became President, the media gave Trump generous space and time because it increased their ratings and ultimately their profits. It also contributed mightily to bringing him to the highest office.

To halt this sinister flourish of the fake, the false and the untrue, I believe a governmental sanction should be placed on the intentional lie and the planned perversion of the truth. This could be advanced by the appointment of a small group of eminent and trusted figures who would evaluate and advise on the use and abuse of truth in business, the social media, and politics and also in the educational system. Furthermore if the social media directors and the television broadcasters denied time to liars, there might gradually be pressure on politicians to convert to telling the truth.

There was a time when people restricted their lies because they feared God’s reaction or its welcome by the Devil. Today the fear of Hell no longer exerts much power. Fear of shame reduced former generations from lying. Could that be resuscitated? Social embarrassment might be an effective way to stop the mendacious. For a start I might suggest exposing those repeatedly sowing lies or disinformation about vaccines.

In the social media, tags should follow all lies. Every written lie could be tagged with a ” ~ ” or serious deceit with a “ ~~ ” Every spoken lie could immediately be greeted with a “brrr….” Thus items of misinformation would be tagged across the board. Admittedly some 40% of Americans are exceptionally gullible and at the same time wedded in their admiration and belief in Trump. So it is going to be a difficult challenge to deprive them of the steady flow of fake news, lies, and political deception to which they have become accustomed. Strengthening the truth is one of the possible ways to liberate them from the narrow perspective of their long standing prejudices.

On the basis that they were unwilling to criticize their President for failing to admit the result of the 2020 elections, I suggest that all those Republicans in Congress now should be declared unfit for re-election. Theirs was, indeed, a slap in the face of the truth. As Arendt concluded: “Conceptually, we may call truth what we cannot change: metaphorically, it is the ground on which we stand and the sky that stretches above us.”

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1Hannah Arendt, “Between Past and Future,” The New Yorker, February 25, 1967.

2Martin Luther, Table Talk, 1569.

3Michael Gerson, “Trump is the King of Lies,” The Washington Post, July 23, 2020.

R U N A W A Y S

The emphasis everywhere on everything these days is speed. It has gone out of control. Be it the fake news or the masses of data to which we are exposed in these times of global Covid-19, I feel uneasy being fed high-speed dodgy algorithm skewed messages. I observe our younger generations being geared to speed: any visual information on TV or the internet lasting more than four seconds cannot be absorbed.
Yes. Technologically-driven life has turned increasingly unpleasant. Most new electric machines have complex control buttons whether it be on remote television, mobile phones, ovens, or even car direction systems. All of these have become ever more complicated and leave me increasingly grappling — particularly on my MacBook computer where passwords have me pulling my hair.

I now need to consult my handwritten list of over 40 passwords covering everything from Twitter to Firefox and Norton to PayPal. I must confess that I have been forced to use differing passwords ever since gangsters entered one of my older banking passwords. I suffered minor losses but wasted enormously exasperating  hours with irritatingly hyper-compartmentalized security bureaucrats. I feel the endless challenges and tests I must face daily in our high-speed tech-driven world are direct attacks on a civilized way of life. We are painfully experiencing a Runaway world.

It took our brains millennia to advance slowly and accommodate according to the environment. However, driven by capitalism, scientific advances — and the incredibly fast development of our technology — in only 200 years the world jumped from steam power to nuclear power. In less than 150 years we jumped from electric power to the internet and in less than two decades we moved from the telephone to the mobile. Now in under a decade two companies are advancing us to remote Zoom work. Such startling progress has been so rapid that our runaway technology has begun unbalancing us as human beings.

I see the unrelenting pace of change as Runaway, but feel the most alarming is the ever-increasing population now dominating the planet. This is followed by run-amuck Pollution whose many aspects threaten our life on Earth. Then comes Technology running the gauntlet swiftly innovated by Data and Algorithms. I continue with Money, as leader of the economic power of Runaways, including and concluding with Debt, Profit, Competition and Corporations all of which have become increasingly uncontrollable. So much has gotten out of control that I cannot cover all the aspects in one blog. What follows here are what I believe to be the most threatening.

I.      P O P U L A T I O N

This tops all our runaway problems. When I was born the global population was just over 2.3 billion. Today it has risen to a staggering 7.8 billion. This means we have multiplied over thrice the world’s inhabitants in one lifetime: an unacceptable development for this planet and we shall still increase this critical total by more than 81 million this year… and more in the years to come.

Thomas Russel Malthus wrote two centuries ago in his Principle of Population (1798):

“Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence only increases in an arithmetical ratio.”

This conclusion warned us BEWARE! We have done nothing to stop it. Plagues used to keep the global populations down and so did malaria and other diseases. The vaccines for Covid-19 will ultimately end this plague and barely affect our dire population numbers.

II.      P O L L U T I O N
This ever growing horde of people has led to the pollution of our air, water and soil.  In the 21st century we have at last come to recognize the threat of fatal  poisoning to our environment. A multitude of ecologists and writers have dealt  with the scope and challenge of this complex Runaway.  Automation and robots will steadily make both office work and manufacturing  far less polluting.(This may also lead to Runaway unemployment, but I will not get distracted here.) I will focus here on two polluting solids: Plastics and Cement.

Plastics

Globally we have moved from producing about 1.7 million tons of plastics in 1950 to 390 million tons today, polluting the waterways, the rubbish dumps, the beaches and most importantly, our oceans. There are now 5.25 trillion macro- and micro-pieces of plastic in our oceans and it is now estimated that there are 46,000 pieces in every square mile of ocean, weighing up to 269,000 tons. Every day around 8 million new pieces of plastic makes their way into our seas.Tons of plastic pellets are likewise dumped into the oceans every day and untold amounts are then swallowed by birds, fish, whales and ultimately, even human beings.

Statistic on the totals of burning plastics are not available but these are also steadily poisoning the atmosphere. Only 9 percent of the total production of plastic is being recycled. Fortunately there are numerous ways to slow this particular Runaway down… but when?

Cement

This planet is becoming greyer with the spread of concrete every day. After water, concrete is the most widely produced material on this planet.  Enough concrete is poured every year to cover an entire surface the size of England. In other words cement is ruining the environment. The production of cement had risen from about 1,100 million metric  tons in 1990 to 4,000 million metric tons in 2020. That’s Runaway expansion in need of international control.

China is now pouring more cement every three years than the United States did over the entire 20th century.  Globally, concrete is now entombing enormous tracts of fertile soil. Runaway Japanese government-subsidized construction projects “have wreaked untold damage on mountains, rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, everywhere — and it goes on at a heightened pace. That is the reality of modern Japan and the numbers are staggering,” says the longtime author and resident of Japan, Alex Kerr.

III.      T E C H N O L O G Y

Technology has swept the world to the extent that we are now trapped by it.  From space tech satellites to logarithms which will soon enable corporations and governments to set up their targets and goals, technology will triumph. All machinery, is based on it. The efficiency and speed of technology make it most desired. The new “cognitive technologies” such as algorithms dominate our determination for the ever greater masses of data to which we are being subjected. Charles Dickens back in the 19th century satirized the utility maximizing machine in the person of Mr Gradgrind who hoped to “weigh and measure every parcel of human nature.”  Nowdays he would have included soul-searching. For example, somewhat perversely, logarithms have been used to expose whether a man is straight or gay on the basis of male portraits on TV dating sites.

Algorithms also are being used by politicians, corporations and governments to increase their power. The administrators in Washington DC and the bureaucrats in Whitehall have used their interpretations of logarithm data to emasculate the labor unions. However, the misinterpretation of data also has led to leaders like Trump and Johnson to make embarrassing turn-arounds.

In my introduction to Runaways, I gave some indication of the extent to which Technological Trauma is being caused by the ever faster changes in the use of  swiftly multiplying Apps.The overwhelming exposure to data is altering our perceptions which can seriously affect our thoughts. The datafications of everything in our national statistics, from our census bureaus to innumerable surveys by universities and the media, are at the basis of our economic systems which collect taxes, declare our debts, incomes, fines, and properties… all of which are then processed and stored.

IV    M O N E Y

Money is at the core of economics and has been one of the fastest of all the Runaways. Money now controls Washington, London and Paris and not the other way around. The value of money is also based on trust and we can all see that this is running away at high speed. The national debt of the United States of 27 trillion dollars is about to become greater than its national product. Money printing, which is now called “Quantitative Easing,” has given limitless space to the printing process. This kind of macroeconomic mismanagement as well as the introduction of virtual money in the creation of digital currencies, form an inevitable recipe for economic chaos. I had not predicted this particular economic trajectory in my book Dollars or Democracy (2004). Nor did I cover the money-laundering which has enmeshed our globe.

V    C O R P O R A T I O N S

The gigantic runaway tech corporations of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have also begun to use their billions to enter into politics with bribes and favors. Profit is the single-minded desire of corporations. Even money-hungry banks are likely to run fast for whatever they need.

Big corporations do not operate with transparency. Not only do they hide mistakes but they avoid public scrutiny into suspect profits, hidden assets and dubious practices. With their freedom to move capital anywhere in the world, the multinationals have transformed tax avoidance into plain evasion of all responsibilities except to increase the profits.This focus on ever increasing profitability makes it difficult to justify to their shareholders putting funds into projects  which could create jobs rather than those which trim the number of employees.

Corporate competition knows no limits. No existing effective principles nor guides exist. By joining with profit, corporate competition is at the forefront of global destruction. The “free-market” with its greedy corporations has been able to run the capitalist states for over two hundred years. It’s time is about over.

VI    D E B T

Publius Syrus wrote around 50 BC that debt was “the slavery of the free,” and Thomas Jefferson some 1800 years later came to regard “public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared.”1 Runaway economies all over the planet have seen extremely low interest rates which permit national economies to grow faster than their debt repayments. This eventually opens the doors to economic disasters which may  be one of the ultimate runaways just like the ever growing trillions of US debt. Perhaps quantum computing may come to the rescue with new ways of thinking which could overwhelm economics. That may be one of this world’s ultimate Runaways!

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1Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Governor Plumer in 1816.

From Food Crisis to Famine?

Many people are wondering whether the world is headed towards widespread famines? Can the world continually feed billions of people without destroying the entire planet? Is global hunger for billions of people inevitable?

“Hunger does not breed reform; it breeds madness, and all the ugly distempers that make an ordered life impossible,” Woodrow Wilson declared on his address to Congress, November 11, 1918 marking the end of WWI. This speech was also given as a plague had broken out. Today an incompetent U.S President is not able to talk directly to the millions of the unemployed people whose families are continually hungry because they don’t have the money nor access to any of the nearby food charities such as Feeding America.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the US Department of Agriculture admitted that 37 million Americas were food insecure. A new charitable organization, Feeding America, is a network of more than 200 food banks which is trying to meet the demands of millions who have lost their jobs. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, was so impressed by what Feeding America is doing that he donated $100 million. This helps, but in the 10 weeks after March 1, 2020 Feeding America provided 1.3 billion meals to the hungry — many of whom had never before queued-up for charity.1

Maximo Torero, the chief economist of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, recently declared that the world’s food systems were under unprecedented threat, as the lockdowns for the pandemic disturbed the ability of millions to harvest, buy and sell food. He cautioned that “This is a very different food crisis than the ones we have seen.”

Globally, multiple millions of people are at risk of extreme poverty this coming winter, however the longer-term effects of the pandemic are frightening, as deep hunger in childhood can leave life-long scars. Already twenty percent of children on this globe are stunted by the age of five and as global poverty rates rise, so will their suffering.
Hunger can be extremely destructive. I know first hand because when I was nine years old our family was being held in a Moroccan detention camp and there was next to nothing to eat. Teeth began to rattle, hair to fall, large sores developed, and I was fighting a plague which had killed many children in the camp. I was close to the end when some fruits were ultimately found to save my life.

My next personal experience with famine was 15 years later when I landed in New Delhi in the midst of a famine. When I walked out of the empty garden of my hotel that first morning, there were no police nor guards and I was faced with a large scattering of ragged beggars holding out their skinny hands and shrieking for help. I thought I could go through them but instantly was blocked on my way by a dead man lying on the curb. To my horror, one of his skinny legs was stretched over another’s dead body. I had a few coins but I knew that this would offer little help to this crowd and I feared I might be stripped of everything on my body if I put my hand in my trousers. So I swiftly turned around and rushed back over the fly-covered dead and through the hotel’s gate. My memory goes back to the starving faces and bulging eyes of that famine of April 1956. I felt abashed then at not being able to help those beggars who were dying.

I spent the next two days in the hotel reading about famines in a book on India. Historically, this vast nation had been dependent on monsoon rains and for centuries lacked the means of transporting food to all parts of the country. In the great famine in Bengal 1769-70 more than ten million died. Although it had become a British colony, the London Parliament had no settled famine policy until 1866. Then the English did little to help except the introduction of railroads.

Today my equilibrium is challenged all the time by reportages on television and the internet focused on famines in Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan and others in Africa and the Middle East. The despair of the multiple scenes of young children starving are haunting. David Beasley, the head of he World Food Program, warned earlier this year that the danger of multiple famines of “Biblical proportions” were ahead of us. A quarter of Somalia’s 16 million people, for example, were currently facing famine because its crops had been swept away by floods and then ravaged by swarms of desert locusts leading to humanitarian disaster.

According to a report produced by the UN, more than 265 million people are currently being pushed to the edge of starvation, which doubles the number under threat before Covid-19. In an interview with The Guardian, Beasley said, “We are not talking about people going to bed hungry. We are talking about extreme conditions, emergency status — people literally marching to the brink of starvation. If we don’t get food to people, people will die.” The worst of the impact of the pandemic and ensuing recession are yet to be felt, warned Antonio Guterres the UN secretary general.

Globally, better social protections for the poor are needed, said Guterres, as the looming recession following the coronavirous pandemic may put basic nutrition beyond their reach. Dangerous deficiencies in our food systems, such as export controls and stockpiling, could assist in producing humanitarian disasters.2 80 per cent of this planet’s people have partly been fed by imports. Thousands of ships connect agricultural products across the seas. Planes, trains, and trucks then help in distribution. For example, Ukrainian wheat is milled into flour by Turkey, some of which is then turned into noodles in China. Such supply and demands of nourishment were mostly flexible in our 21st century. It is important to remember that only four or five countries now grow more rice than they eat.

Lockdowns, however, have been slowing harvests while millions of seasonal laborers are unable to work. At the same time food waste has reached unwelcome levels with farmers forced to dump such perishable produce as milk while some huge meat industry factories have been forced to close. The closure of restaurants and other markets also has resulted in some farmers letting their crops rot rather than pay for harvesting with unsettling consequences. All this has caused the price of basic foods to rise in many countries. Supply chains are also affected by lockdowns and it is difficult to get labor into the fields when they are sick or lacking travel facilities.

Food is also lost by fishermen ranging from Chinese to French who, in their giant freezing boats, throw back more than half of their catch as not saleable. Improved management of wild fish catches could boost returns and add 14 million new jobs according to this year’s World Economic Forum. Such possibilities are hard to accept when a third of humanity, over 3 billion children, women and men, cannot afford enough healthy food to eat, claimed Rashmi Mistry, head of Oxfam’s Grow Campaign. Commenting on the publication of a new UN Report of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, she pointed out that there are more than 60 million people hungry today than there were five years ago. Mistry insisted that more sustainable ways of feeding people must be found. This included prioritizing the needs of small-scale food producers and workers over the profits of the huge agri-food corporations.3

Globally, poverty and the lack of money are driving not only our speedily expanding pandemic but are also advancing hunger. Some experts are suggesting that artificially produced mass foods could slow down the advance of famines, but such artificial meals might change the very nature of the eaters. After all, we are what we eat. The lack of alternatives were considered by Homer 2,800 years ago in The Odyssey: simply that hunger was the worst form of death.

The UN’s FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) as it currently stands will be unable, because of national differences, to tackle the likely scale of forthcoming global famines. For example, it now fails to control the private operations of the huge fish freezing super-trawlers which are not only threatening the survival of special fish species but also are depriving millions of the hungry from the untold tons of fish being wasted in their gigantic net operations.

Given this difficult and tragic situation, I believe the food and its distribution should be brought under the control of a single truly powerful international organization and not by the capitalist corporations currently benefiting from the disasters I have been describing. Huge private operations like those of Unilever, Sysco, Nestle, Perdue, and Cargill ultimately should be brought together as collaborative cooperatives to create a truly Global FAO.4

Globally it will be our collective responsibility to transform the ways we deal with food, the ways it grows and is distributed. Money has never been good at bringing people together like food does. It is high time that we get our priorities right in the frightening crises we may soon be facing.

As long as Trump is President there is no possibility of serious global action. His prejudiced outlook is based on narrow nationalism very close to that once held by Hitler. So we must wait for Biden to take over and get the nations of the world together to tackle gigantic problems such as the environment or the horrors of hunger and famine which have been disregarded by Trump.


1“We’re going to have to confront food insecurity,” David Gelles, The New York Times, July 1, 2020

2“The tables not yet turned,” The Economist, May 9, 2020, pp 13-15

4“World Faces Worst Food Crisis,” Fiona Harvey, The Guardian, June 9, 2020

4See: Yorick Bumenfeld, Dollars or Democracy, (2004)

Smaller versus bigger

Over the past couple of months our mind-set has shifted dramatically. In March, the focus which had been on the economic globalization of five tech giants turned to the vicious plague launched by the microscopically small covid19. The widespread desire, which had been developing to examine how to switch from the ever larger, bigger or gigantic that range for buildings, cities, or corporations, may now focus on smaller more human units. Driven by fear, the larger vision escapes us. We shall be struggling to comprehend the scientific complexities of the tiny viruses that threaten us.

We may ponder over what is right, but we have no problem knowing what is wrong when it comes to big and small in economics, architecture and even in sports. While in our daily lives the small is understandable and often desirable, when it comes to the universal level, the big often seems as overwhelming as it is environmentally destructive. We seem incapable of limiting the rampant impositions of such international giants as Facebook, Apple, Kraft, Microsoft, Shell or Unilever.

I was therefore thrilled to open the New York Times in February to find this headline in the business section: “She wants to break up all the giants.” The article describes how an anti-trust activist, Sarah Miller, 37, struggles to rewire the American economy. This former aide at the US Treasury Department and then a deputy director of the Open Markets Institute, spent three years guiding a coalition of liberal groups in Silicon Valley to break up Facebook for violating anti-trust laws.

Miller’s aims to break up giant corporations like Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Apple that are all monopolies seizing control of how billions of people communicate online and make billions of dollars a year from their often dangerous services. Miller and her associates believe these big tech monopolies are subverting democracy. Their platforms enable the spread of nefarious misinformation, profit from deceptive promotion of critical health supplies, and the collapse of local news sources.

I admire Miller’s efforts to introduce worker representation in all corporate administrations. Indeed, her latest organizations are bringing up-to-date Schumacher’s “small is beautiful” proposals. Earlier this year she took the lead at the American Economic Liberties Project to confront the corporate concentrations which were furthering global inequality. She told the New York Times: “If you look at meat processing, if you look at baby formula, if you look at pacemakers, everywhere you look you see markets that have been rolled up and monopolized.”1 In calling for reform of the anti-trust laws she also advocated “working with groups that look at work through a civil rights lens.”

From Miller’s perspective, while corporations claim to be engines of wealth creation, in truth they are engines of wealth extraction. Their bottom lines of profit are dependent on the enormous sums paid by the public’s tax payers for everything from health provisions to the costs of education, infrastructure, and national defense. At the American Economic Liberties Project, Miller and her associates are now focusing on proposed federal guidelines to evaluate mergers and abuses by national and global conglomerates. Their aims are not only to push the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department into action but also to alert voters on how the detrimental effects of the uncontrolled growth of corporate giants threaten democracy.

Barry Lynn, one of Miller’s top collaborators contends that the giant monopolies are squelching innovation and destabilizing financial and industrial systems. He has argued that the US anti-trust laws must be revived to recover true open markets and democratic freedoms. Lynn also is eager to expose the extensive violations of privacy by groups like Google and Facebook as well as their kinetic intrusions and invasive social advertising.

When Congress passed the CARES Act to protect those financially impacted by the coronavirus, the legislation also expanded unemployment insurance and created an emergency small business lending program. But this act also authorized the Federal Reserve to lend to large publicly traded corporations and financial institutions — in other words, it licensed bailouts for the giants and Wall Street. This extension of $4 trillion of credit was the equivalent of a $13,000 loan to every American, but that isn’t going primarily to workers, communities or small businesses. It may be used to bail out the large corporations, and high-risk investors with few significant restrictions and limited oversight, possibly including private equity funds.

The Fed has been buying assets on a frantic scale. It is committed to purchasing corporate debts and even high yield “junk bonds”. This has forestalled the anticipated cascade of bankruptcies in large firms. All of this increases the power corporate monopolies wield in the United States and pushes the eager monopolies to prey on the vulnerable small businesses that are struggling to stay afloat.

What is now needed from Washington is more aggressive oversight of the corporate giants, antitrust enforcement, much stronger financial regulation and the introduction of a more powerful administrative executive. What is now missing is a road map to a more humane program in which SMALL matters.

For the past 47 years I have enormously admired E.F. Schumacher’s book “small is beautiful a study of economics as if people mattered.” He saw the true nature of mankind being distorted by our pursuit of economic growth. He pushed for the break-up of the giant corporations and the introduction of worker representation across the board:

“The economics of gigantism and automation … is totally incapable of solving any of the real problems of today. An entirely new system of thought is needed, a system based on attention to people, and not primarily attention to goods …Industrial development only pays as large projects are invariably more economic than small ones … and capital intensive projects are invariably preferred against labor- intensive ones.”2

As machines do not make the mistakes which people do, the drive is for ever larger units.

If this was true then, how much more obvious this should this be now. Today the global economy is dominated by a few enormously rich financial speculators and investment groups as well as the dozen or so international mega-corporations that are able to manipulate prices and drive competitors from the market.

Over the past two decades of mergers and acquisitions the unaccountable corporations concentrated in the financial, technological and communication sectors have dominated the market to the extent that they are able to manipulate prices, drive out competitors, and corrupt democratic politics. Today in the US the launching of new companies is restricted by the powers of the Big Tech. The small businesses are likely to suffer in the post-pandemic era where there will be fewer low-wage jobs for millions of desperate job seekers.

The coming consolidations through mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliances also means fewer jobs: The big swallowing the small. This also means fewer jobs as the enlarged units tend to cut jobs after combination. Because there will be fewer employers to hire or retain workers by the post-plague corporations, the pressure on the economy generally will be to lower wages. Large projects are generally more economic for corporations than multiple small ones. It is also true that giants like Microsoft and Apple have turned through agglomeration into groupings of smaller semi-autonomous units.

In my technology driven alternative, Dollars or Democracy, an economic revolution is led by workers introducing small, independent stakeholder-owned and community-based networks.3 As Schumacher wrote: “People can be themselves only in small comprehensible groups. Therefore we must learn to think in terms of an articulated structure that can cope with a multiplicity of small-scale units.”4 Yes. We must conceive and plan our evolution into an overall successful economy with sustainable growth and a more inclusive and equitable base. In sum: A life-serving planetary collective. A place where large and small mix harmoniously.

As John Ruskin cautioned us: ”He who can take no interest in what is small will take false interest in what is great.”5


1David McCabe, “She wants to break up all the giants,” The New York Times, February 13, 2020.

2E.F. Schumacher, small is beautiful, (1973) p.68

3Yorick Blumenfeld, Dollars or Democracy (2004)

4Schumacher, op.cit. p 67

5John Ruskin, Modern Painters, (1846)

OUR EVOLVING MEMORIES

As an ever increasing percentage of people live beyond the age of 80, they are also experiencing the decaying memory of senescence. At the same time there are numbers of significant scientific breakthroughs in understanding the functioning of memory in the brain and amazing ways in which memory might eventually be improved. We are witnessing astounding explanations ranging from the exploration of specific hormones to the impact of magnetics. This gives me hope, as I write, because I am affected by a growing forgetfulness of the names not only of many garden plants but also of old acquaintances. As Thomas Jefferson noted some 200 years ago “Of all the faculties of the human mind that of memory is the first which suffers decay from age.”1

Since the days of Plotinus and Augustine memory has been recognized as the storehouse of experience as well as the mind’s unique knowledge of itself. It is at the base of what makes us human beings. Our longer life spans are also a factor in the incredible capacity of our memory.

I view memory as a kind of library of the mind. I wonder if I have built up my very large collection of books because I never really trusted my memory. Now I hope I do not blend imagination and remembrance or, for that matter, mix myth with memory. In old age these are not always differentiated. Some people have written down endless records of events and stages in their life, but then in later days add to their recollection of what happened. Such additions to their memories may become embellished as the years advance but the ways we distort past incidents is not related to memory loss. In many ways the mental evolution can even enrich our lives.

I remember the first telephone number of my parents in Paris some 80 years ago. I am concerned for our younger generation which no longer needs to memorize mobile numbers and, for that matter, has no need to memorize poetry, songs, or birthdays. The impact of modern technology on the memory of the millennial generation has not yet been examined seriously by sociologists. Teenagers today are unlikely to have the concentration and memory levels of past generations. I wonder what my grandchildren will remember of how we lived in 2020 AD? Indeed, will human interactions be recorded in their brains more than exchanges with their robots?

Hannah Arendt, recollecting the past in her important work, The Life of the Mind,  thought of remembrance as a form of witchcraft. She wrote “I can remember the past as though it had not disappeared… It is as though I had withdrawn into some never-never land, the land of invisibles, of which I would know nothing had I not this faculty of remembering and imagining.”2 Going back to Athenian history, Arendt pointed out that “Mnemosyne, memory, is the mother of the Muses, and remembrance, the most frequent and also the most basic thinking experience, has to do with things that are absent, that have disappeared from my senses.”

Age-related memory loss, as well as dementia and Alzheimer’s, begins within the area of the brain called the hippocampus. This was so named in 1564 by Julius Caesar Arantius a surgeon who cut into the temporal lobe where it meets the brain stem and was confronted with a worm-like form which resembled a sea horse — so he called it a hippo monster (in Latin). Some three hundred years later the German neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer (1864-1915) observed that patients who died with dementia also had developed clumps of insoluble material near the hippocampus. His discovery became the first published case of “pre-senile dementia.” Much later these Amyloid plaques, as they became known, were identified as masses of misfolding proteins.

Some 60 years ago in the United States, both sides of the hippocampus of a seriously epileptic patient, Henry Molaison, were removed. This succeeded in controlling his epilepsy but also cut his ability to remember. His condition paved the way for an intense focus by scientists into exploration of human memory loss. Was the problem with the gradual decay of the neurons in that section of the brain, or was it with the increase of cells blocking connections? It turned out that there were multiple possibilities for any resolution.

Microbiologists were among the first to realize that there are various forms of memory loss. Age-related memory loss is very different from dementia. In normal aging forgetfulness does not interfere with the ability to carry on with normal daily activities. My friend Clive Cookson wrote in the Financial Times that “various types of electric and magnetic stimuli are being used increasingly to improve cognitive performance. When Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) was applied (near the hippocampus) activity in the associated brain regions became better synchronized.”3

Research on mice has shown that a hormone produced by bone cells (osteocalcin) influenced their memory as well as the launch of new neurons. Nobel laureate Eric R Kandel working in labs at Columbia University discovered that a deficiency in the RbAp48 protein contributed in age-related memory loss. Moreover, the interactions of drips of osteocalcin with that of the RbAp48 protein were able to restore muscle functions in aging mice. This has raised hopes that memory loss could be reversed in humans by restoring the hormone levels back to that of their youthful stages. Such findings are leading to a better comprehension of how the molecular mechanisms underlying human memory could be manipulated.4 Other lines of inquiry are being followed by scientists trying to understand exactly how, at molecular levels, exercise improves memory. (Is sprinting more effective than weight training?) Chemically, exactly how does aging of the body affect the condition of the brain? Dr Kandel believes the exploration in these fields “are just the beginning.”

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is widely used to determine the structure of organic molecules in solution and to study the molecular physics in addition to the chemical interactions. NMR is also routinely used in advanced medical imaging techniques, such as in magnetic resonance imaging. Ian Campbell and Sir Christopher Dobson, who died September 8th, were among the first to use nuclear magnetic resonance to demonstrate the misfolding alterations in the structure of lysozyme (protein) molecules. Among the multiple groups competing in ways to stave off cognitive decline are Wren Therapeutics, Microbiotica and the Pacific Neuroscience Institute. More conventional processes of examining the toxic clumps of amyloid fibrils are also underway by massive pharmaceutical companies.

It is exciting that, step-by-step, scientists are finding out more about how memory works in the brain and how it is connected to the body. Right now, for example, they are examining whether walking or gym exercise has a greater effect on memory. Before long scientists will discover what specific hormones are most effective in promoting memory and how these may best be prescribed. Such a slowdown to memory loss would be a tremendous boost in diminishing the disability of the aged. Realistic optimistic hopes do exist!


1Thomas Jefferson, letter to B.H. Latrobe (1812)
2Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind, Vol.1 (1971) p.85
3Clive Cookson, “How magnets can power memory,” The FT Magazine, September 6, 2014, p.49
4Chrissy Sexton, “Naturally occurring hormone could prevent of reverse memory loss,” Earth.Com, October 23, 2018.

THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGING PERSPECTIVES


For those of you who accidentally received a first draft last week of this blog, this one is quite different in its overall perspective. You may be amused by the radical changes made.


As a member of the older generation, the changes I continue facing in everyday-life are historically unprecedented, wide-ranging, and in many ways controversial. A number are difficult to handle or to tolerate for many different age levels.

I find the continuing acceleration in the speed of change in life disturbing. Everybody is “busy” most of the time. We race from one place to another, spend too much time in traffic jams, rush through what we have to read, see on television and follow on our computers. Meals are cut short and Victorian style afternoon teas are no longer in fashion — they are too time consuming.

Through the dynamism of both technology and finance, we have changed not only the pace of life but also have altered its quality and direction. Money (that is, profits) has been the driving force of capitalism but almost no attention has been given to the effects on human beings which follow most innovations. In my last blog I focused on the unknown impact of iPads and tablets on infants. That was not the occasion to examine the possible impact of computers, mobiles and automation on adults.

What first comes to mind is what I am doing right now! The hours spent everyday on my computer are bad for my back, my eyes, my hands and my spirits. I still love writing with pen or pencil and find these wonderful, but slow and I, too, am often in a hurry. I am not on Facebook or the other social networks because they would intrude into my moments of leisure, time in the garden, or time to reflect.

So where can we take the currently uncontrolled and unplanned advances of technology which are popularly assumed may end with Artificial Intelligence? How to test the effects of automation on human beings as well as on entire societies? It is evident that as long as money/profits remain the prime driving force, there is little possibility of controlling the advance of untested but desirable technology-driven innovations for our brains and mental states.

Let me suggest that the pharmaceutical industry is a good example of what the Silicon valley giants could try to copy: In most countries almost all new medicines have to pass a variety of rigorous tests for their suitability on patients. If this difficult as well as bureaucratic program works effectively for protecting our physical health, why could different tests not be applied for the mental well-being of those subjected to electronically stimulated waves — ranging from head-sets to our everyday iPhones? We have little idea at the moment to what we are subjecting our brains (and hearts) and what the possibilities of damage there may be from many electronic devices.

On a broader perspective, some of the impacts of the new technology on the younger generation are evident: many no longer communicate in writing on paper and tend to stick to minimalism when it comes to expressing themselves. They even don’t like to use the telephone, regarding it as a medium of old-timers. I have been advised by a son that he no longer reads any email which extends beyond two terse paragraphs. As a writer, I find all of this poses cultural challenges which we could perhaps correct in schools and universities over time.

As a writer and former journalist, I am most disturbed by the newly popularized crisis of faith in journalism. The masses like to get the instant flow of events from Twitter and the online news organizations. What with the perverters of the truth, like Murdoch’s Sun newspaper in the UK and Fox News in the USA, the press increasingly gives readers the scandals they want rather than informing them of the events which might increase their knowledge or might be useful. For that matter, I have to confess that getting the Trump scenarios out of my mind is becoming an everyday challenge.

Even much of our economics are becoming unfathomable: Bit-Coins with their digital crypto-currencies make no sense. It seems that they are new instruments for gamblers, tax evaders, and high-tech risk takers rather than money to be used every day. Controls by governments of QE (Quantitative Easing) in which billions upon billions of dollars, pounds and other currencies have been pumped into bank reserves also seem most dubious. The whole QE process comes straight out of wonderland and tends to confuse minds, even in government, about reality.

I must balance these deep concerns with my expression of positive advances in so many areas. I am most enthusiastic about the giant greenhouses being based on the Eden Project in Cornwall. The co-founder, Sir Tim Smith, wants “to create oases of change… our job is to create a fever of excitement about the world that is ours to make better.” His group is now planning the construction of giant green-house domes in China, Australia and New Zealand.

I find the GPS of finding one’s way around the world as directed from outer space is a marvelous technological breakthrough, much as it may do away with our former ability to read maps. This is a variation of the impact that the technologies have on our abilities. When kids in schools some fifty years ago were given simple hand held adding machines, they quickly forgot how to do their sums.

The miracle cures for cancer exploiting the powers of genetics and our human immune systems are to be lauded. The related advances in gene editing techniques are promising extraordinary solutions to many of our genetically based illnesses. However, as with medicines, we should try to advance more carefully with intense examinations of the possible consequences rather than triumphantly announcing breakthroughs. The moral challenges we face with the introduction of gene editing must be dealt with enormous care and consideration. Our perspective of how to protect our minds after all these millennia of change and development must not be corrupted by the lure of money nor even by the competitive egos of leading scientists.1

Governments around the world are now planning to ban all diesel and petrol vehicles over the next 25+ years because the rising levels of nitrogen oxide present a major threat to public health as well as to climate change. If governments can do this on a cooperative basis, why can they not start research on whether the electronic products of ‘Silicon Valley” are affecting the mental and asocial imbalances of the population?

Thankfully, there are numerous aspects of our evolving cultures, like the above, which are greatly encouraging. I think it is most important to focus on these to bring greater hope to millions of people who have become deeply discouraged by the universal focus on capitalist competition, celebrity, and terrorism in this new millennium. I am advocating that the wonders of being alive on this incredible planet truly should be the basis for much of future optimism in the next generations.


1Yorick Blumenfeld, Towards the Millennium, (1996) pp. 421-428

EPILOGUE — THE NOVEMBER 8TH CALAMITY

Trump’s victory hit me like a blow to the head, totally disrupting  my thoughts, feelings, and reactions: There was no way I  could continue to write blogs focused on our positive prospects for tomorrow after the unmitigated catastrophe of the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

Some months later, I still cannot see anything which will make life more meaningful emerging under Trump. This is a turning point for the US, but personally, from my individual perspective, it was and remains a disaster, like having been in a serious car crash.

I still cannot accept that such a large part of the American electorate failed to recognize Trump as a vain, politically inexperienced, deceptive, limited, insecure, lacking in empathy and pathologically unsuited con-man.

Trump had been exposed as being unfit to hold office by the entirety of the American press. (I described him as a 21st Century Satan in one of my blogs a few months ago.)  The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal and the editorial pages of all the leading newspapers across the country steadily warned against him to no avail. No point for me now to continue the loud chorus of printed dismay with  further denunciations in my blog.

Beyond their frustrated expectations of a better life, what could have persuaded so many American voters to endorse such an exceedingly unsuitable candidate? Were they blind? Out of their minds? Physically, on my first viewing years ago, I had immediately found his face revolting. Many of the people I know cannot stand the sight of him on their TV sets and yet the flood of truly vile items released about Trump and by him, has failed to arouse doubts in his admirers. They seemed to be saying at every chance: “He’s real. He’s just like us” and then they  repeat “He’ll Make America Great Agin.”(sic) Such chants speedily downgrade into shouting their stored hatreds and anger. Their disgusting behavior, reminded me of the way Germans had expressed their venom three generations ago, and had the unwelcome effect of hyper-activating my bile.

As a refugee from Nazi occupied France in 1941, I entered America as a youth who desired rapid assimilation: I immediately treasured the optimistic and positive spirit of my classmates in New York.  Intuitively I felt that the political attitudes of Americans offered a rational, generous and hopeful prospect for mankind. When I went to Harvard, purportedly surrounded by “the brightest and the best”, I came to take for granted the exchange of thoughts, the examination of given assumptions, (such as understanding, insight and acceptance), as representing a naturally intelligent way of life. This educational preparation received a few shocks during a stretch in the US Army as a “Private, third class.”  Basic training is focused on following orders, not on discussing Plato or Jefferson. However, I did come to appreciate the social equality of my fellow recruits.

My belief in the fundamental American values was strengthened in the years which followed as a writer and researcher for Congressional-Quarterly/Editorial Research in Washington, DC. I enjoyed asking questions at JFK’s White House press conferences. Such experience furthered my engagement in the search for truth, in factual reporting, and in expanding the understanding of my readers. I developed a belief, however misguided as it may have been, in the common-sense of the American people. At times, as in the elections of Richard Nixon and later in that of  George W. Bush, I began to have my doubts. These were electrified by the shocking antics of Donald Trump.

Was my entire outlook on life and on the premises by which I had embraced the American way of life erroneous or worthless? Have knowledge, rationality, intelligence and memory all become irrelevant in this new and most unwelcome era?

The long-term prospects are not good for a nation which is now led by a POTUS who has never held any position in service of the nation, who has skillfully avoided taxes, has no understanding of the necessity of compromise in the democratic process, is unable to accept criticism or to listen to the voice of others and ultimately appears unable to recognize the difference between truth and fiction.

All too many Americans seem to have succumbed to the misguiding power of celebrity, to the even greater power of money, and to the digital propaganda of Twitter. Millions of Americans have obviously become unreceptive to examining lies and falsehood, at the same time that they were rejecting expertise, debate, intelligence and experience. Serious analysis and criticism are no longer to be regarded as welcome or even essential. As a number of writers on The New York Times, from David Brooks on the right to Paul Krugman on the left, have noted: hypocrisy now flourishes in America. The evangelical believers and  conservative Republicans who swore by their religious tenets and balanced budgets, simply abandoned their fundamental beliefs for the sake of political power.

The new “Age of the Deal,” leaves me reeling. Where to turn? What to do? Should I give up my American citizenship? There is no way I can align my writings or outlook to counter-act the unending flow of brainless Tweets. What has happened to conscience, to values, to empathy and to cultural traditions in this misbegotten administration?

I felt and continue to feel that the response of the Congressional Democrats has been unacceptably feeble. It is without true fire in the belly. The exception of the heroic John Lewis, who stood up bravely to contest the validity of the election, was not matched by his Party. I regarded the inauguration not as a patriotic event but as an occasion to mourn the passing of much of the democratic dream of a better future. Trumpism seems to be heralding a period of denial in which the environmental threat to our planet is likely to accelerate.

I cannot see the point of joining voices to the powerful bandwagon against Trump.  I feel there is little place now for a blog which worked towards a positive exploration of our future possibilities. I shall try to continue to explore the more positive aspects and values of the world around us at a time when the stream of executive orders from the White House are spreading anxiety and gloom. I trust that correspondents like Roger Cohen will continue their exposure of the contradictions and rantings of a pathologically deranged Head of State.

I recognize that the best I can do in this chaotic period is to alter my focus: Instead of continuing to suggest social and economic alternatives, I shall explore cultural aspects of society much as I did in Paris decades ago for Newsweek. I hope that on occasion this will distract and uplift your spirits as much as they may mine.

108. Exit Corporate Capitalism

The fragility of our economic foundations has become a universal concern. Not only are these still nerve rattling after-shocks from the last crisis in 2008, but every day’s news warns us that there is the risk of a serious economic implosion around the corner. The truth is that our global economic system cannot long endure debts of $200 trillion — or three times the gross global product when the interest rates and inflation are both close to zero and QE (Quantitative Easing/printing money) is pumping billions into economies whose currencies continue to be devalued. As Stephen King, the HSBC economist, dramatically cautioned: “The world economy is a Titanic without lifeboats.”

I consistently argued in my book, Dollars or Democracy1, that we have to face up to the fact that after two centuries of undisputed advance, corporate capitalism has had its innings. Yes, it had great achievements: Corporate capitalism took most of humanity out of an agricultural existence into an industrial one and then into our own technological era. However, at no stage was corporate capitalism concerned with human well being. It was focused on the interest money could earn and the profits that could be made through goods and services. It never had an answer to nagging unemployment nor the entry of robots. Indeed, it was never responsible for the stewardship of our planet nor the equitable distribution of clean air, water and food. All those problems were left to the political sphere.

In many ways corporate capitalism sowed the seeds of its own predicament. It fostered ever-faster growth and changes which have had revolutionary consequences manifest in the populist upheaval in politics which we are currently experiencing. In a system which promoted naked self-interest, one of the major human problems which arose was that many world’s peoples adopted much of the ethos of corporate capitalism as an integral part of their perspective. Helped by the technological wonders of the Internet, we developed ever-mounting expectations. The popular focus turned to celebrity, wealth and the self. The highest “value” was no longer human nor divine but monetary. In this process humanity also became hooked on speed: fast travel, fast transactions, fast cars, ever-faster communications as well as mobility (which included upward mobility.)

The electorates, whose hopes had been advanced by the promotions of an elite, began to feel deeply alienated from an economic system that produces unacceptable inequalities. They started to recognize that terms like “growth” and “free trade” might just be the deceitful expressions of wishful thinking on the part of the politicians and the media. However, the populace have yet to recognize that in the 21st century the dollar has become the golden calf that much of humanity worships. Amen!

How much longer can the voters accept such an unbalanced economic system where less than one hundredth of one percent owns more than half of the entire global population, where robotics are putting ever increasing millions out of work, and where global giants are free to produce such high levels of pollution on this planet that the survival of most living species is now threatened?

Yes. The time has come to restructure an economy which feeds on the mathematically unsustainable, namely, Growth. Without it, corporate capitalism would have a short life span. And even the statistic dependent “economists,” whom few members of humanity now trust, admit that the levels of growth of the past 50 years cannot continue.

At the basis of an economic reconstruction stands the globalized corporations whose principal concern is profit for their shareholders and ever-higher pay for their executives. Corruption is rife in the biggest firms as evidenced by VW’s diesel emission scandal and the collapse of Enron. Moreover, corporations have had minimal tax demands put on them by nation states and have almost no legal responsibilities to the populations. When not in collusion with other corporations, competition for their product forces them towards innovation and changes which customers may initially welcome but whose overall long-term impact is unknown and may be damaging.2 The impact of corporate capitalism on the workings of the mind and on the environment we live in has been corrosive.

The reckless “short-termism” of corporate managements has corroded those very same virtues that capitalism originally was based upon: trust, honesty, craftsmanship, family values and cooperation.

Considering what an emotional creature Homo sapiens is, perhaps my desire for a degree of order in the world with a system which is rational may be unrealistic. All too often the “values” that society has established are not determined by the hard, cold facts and as a consequence our economic constructs are irrational, transient and often chaotic, Symbolically, words like “policy”, “program”, “plans” when uttered by politicians arouse immediate public cynicism.

I am fully aware that corporations are and will continue to be firmly opposed to any change in their select and privileged status. The environmental pollution they produce may be challenged and corrected by political forces, but their social responsibility will remain close to nil. Corporations have accumulated power by such tactics as emasculating the labor unions, and avoiding retribution for non-payment of national taxes by establishing opaque offshore tribunals. So what is to be done? My own response is that the coordinated decisions of governments must legally and gradually make it necessary for corporations to be transformed into cooperatives. The power must shift from the shareholders and investors to those who are the actual workers and their self-selected leaders. Yes, this could lower both effectiveness and competition. Yes, it would slow down the globalization of the economy. Yes, it would also diminish social change and innovation. And it would absolutely diminish the ever increasing inequalities: Please note that in the co-operative world the ratio of top pay to the lowest is around 12 to 1.

How could such revolutionary transition be achieved? I believe the first step could be to start repealing the 150 years of anti-cooperative legislation now on the books. The second would be to give powerful tax incentives to corporations to shift their legal structures away from the shareholders and in favor of the society at large. The third could be to pass restrictive legislation to end all the favoritism which has been shown to corporations in large measure through their lobbying. The final step would be to place vastly increased taxes on those remaining corporations which refused to comply.  In all probability it would take more than a decade to effect such a major shift – especially on organizations now perceived as “too big to fail,” where breaking these up into much smaller units would be challenging.

These basic changes can only come about when faced with such a serious economic meltdown as we are likely to experience in the highly unstable future ahead of us. I do not see this as an apocalyptic economic prediction. However, the corporations at the center of the capitalist system will also become the focus of popular discontent. Even now less than a quarter of the American electorate has confidence in corporate business — or in Wall Street, for that matter. Large corporations are resented for the way they have behaved towards the blue-collar workers. As Robert Reich has pointed out: “The corporate and financial elite has been able to influence the rules by which the economy run.3 Which means that the unacceptable compensation packages of the top executives of big companies are now 300 times greater than that of their average employees.

Corporate executives have been shifting risks on to their workers for the past 30 years. They have reduced payrolls, used part-time and contract workers, steadily introduced automation and outsourced from abroad. This has prevented wages of their work force from rising hand in hand with productivity gains which have gone towards higher corporate profits. Since the recession eight years ago, corporate profits have markedly increased as a sector of the US economy while the wages of their work force have declined. My contention is that corporations are no longer fit for purpose.

What all nations must do is to build a more cooperative superstructure which is not prone to the periodic economic swings of capitalism. Cooperatives would take fewer risks and would be far more conscious of the need for consumer protection. Their normal function would entail a general reduction in competition. (Which is anathema to capitalists.) But a more cooperatively run economy would result in a less anxious, less ostentatious but far more equal and stable society for all.

I have pointed out in past essays that cooperatives, such as Mondragon in Spain or John Lewis in the UK, are far more concerned with long-term planning than today’s corporations. They tend to create and keep more artisanal jobs. They are governed with greater openness and less secrecy. Foremost among all of these is that the workers enjoy greater individual empowerment and security. I believe this is a formula for future generations who are far more conscious of the need to end the frightening pollution which corporations have produced over the past two centuries. The time is ripe for drastic change. In the long term, Homo sapiens can do a lot better than being manipulated by the global corporate powers promoting ever greater inequalities.


1Yorick Blumenfeld, Dollars or Democracy, (2006). This book promoted an alternative called ”The Incentive Economy.”

2There is a feeling amongst the older generations that they have less and less free time, that the demands of the Internet and their mobiles actually increases their anxieties and isolation. There is also mounting concern about its effects on the younger generations.

3Robert Reich, Comment, The Observer, November 8, 2015, p.34

107. Respecting The Truth

The day before the election, I posted the long entry about optimism. I believe in it now as much as when I wrote it, but I am most discouraged by the election to the Presidency of a business man who has no interest in, nor respect for, the truth, facts, nor the written word. In this context, much of the American electorate seems equally unappreciative. Much as in Roman times, the populace wants entertainment and distraction.

We are, alas, all entering a new era of mass communication on the internet with such social media sites as Twitter and Facebook where celebrity is of the essence and wealth greedily clothes ignorance. The lack of values is most evident in the way truth is distorted. Facebook distributed “fake news” such as the falsified presidential endorsement of Trump by Pope Francis. Twitter, encouraged by Trump’s addiction, became a focus of disinformation. As a consequence, ever-increasing doubt was sown about how the media processed information.

What the masses in our time have lost is respect for truth, for facts, and for journalism. A blog like mine is typically viewed as a minor eccentricity. (Most fortunately, we still have exceptional newspapers like the New York Times and The Guardian as well as excellent magazines like The New Yorker and the Atlantic.) But this election has shown that what the best have written directly and with brilliance, ultimately had little impact on the majority when it came to the ballot box. The people obviously did not read, follow, nor understand the printed word. Never in history has any political contender for power faced such a focused rejection by the printed media as Donald Trump. And yet he emerged triumphant.

Journalism, as well as politics, have been unable to keep up to the speed with which change is altering the world. Technology has advanced this phenomenon through the internet, computers and cell phones. Thus far, it has developed without any social responsibility. I have tried my best to keep my blog factual (even using outdated footnotes) which has suggested ways to overcome the shock which has overwhelmed all those who respect such values as truth and integrity.

Yes, as a child I experienced the repetition of lies by Hitler and Goebbels whose Wagnerian preference for death over justice, freedom, or the truth climaxed in their own violent ends. Seventy years later, Trump paraded the repetition of lies most effectively, winning by any means at his disposal. Then, victorious, he shifted his position on matters of state without recognition of any discrepancy.

Philosophers, writers, thinkers and politicians have struggled over many centuries to define “the truth.” I have selected some quotations which I feel might re-enlighten those who deplore the descent of truth over the past year. Alas, Donald Trump is one of those rare, exceptional figures who seem unable to differentiate between truth and lying. The speed with which he has shifted positions, combined with his lack of experience, has evidenced his lack of interest in and understanding of “the truth.” Perhaps the circulation of my listing below could suggest to those around the President-elect that the truth is ultimately fundamental to his survival in office.

ON TRUTH

Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but a stab at the health of human society.

— Ralph W Emerson, Prudence, 1841

 

We arrive at the truth, not by the reason only, but also by the heart.

— Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 1670

 

The exact contrary of what is generally believed is often the truth.

— Jean de La Bruyere, Caracteres, 1688

 

To love truth for truth’s sake is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the seed-plot of all other virtues.

— John-Locke, Letter to Anthony Collins, Oct 29, 1703

 

There are certain times when most people are in disposition of being informed, and ’tis incredible what a vast good little truth might do, spoken in such seasons.

— Alexander Pope, Letter to William Wycherley,
June 23, 1705

 

When fiction rises pleasing to the eye,

men will believe, because they love the lie;

but the truth herself, if clouded with a frown,

must have some solemn proof to pass her down.

— Charles Churchill, Epistle to William Hogarth, 1763

 

If we would only stop lying, if we would only testify the truth as we see it, it would turn out that once that there are hundreds, thousands, even millions of men just as we are, who see the truth as we do, are afraid as we are of

seeming to be singular by confessing it, and are only waiting, again as we are, for someone to proclaim it.

— Leo N. Tolstoy: The Kingdom of God is within you, 1893

 

If one tells he truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.

— Oscar Wilde, Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young, 1894

 

The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get it accepted in the competition of the market.

— Justice O W Holmes, Dissenting opinion in the Abrams vs. United States, 1919

 

If you tell the same story five times, it’s true.

— Larry Speakes, White House Press Secretary,
December 16, 1983

 

In this crazy political business, at least in our times, a lie unanswered becomes truth within twenty-four hours.

— Willie Brown, quoted in the New York Times,
October 31, 1988

 

Each man has in him the potential to realize the truth through his own will and endeavour and to help others to realize it.

— Aung San Suu Kyi , In Quest of Democracy, 1991

 

In a free society, there comes a time when the truth — however hard it may be to hear, however impolitic it may seem to say — must be told.

— Al Gore, fundraising letter, May 2006

 

He who has the truth is in the majority, even though he be one.

— Arab Proverb