Let’s Fix Economic Inequality Rolf Auer, 8 January 2014
Let us put aside whichever supposed causes might be responsible, and instead concentrate on the problem itself. I write this latter statement because I do not believe that the out-and-out overthrowing of “the system” is viable. The natural inclination of humans is towards peace, therefore they would not—as a rule—welcome violent revolutionary upheaval, as much as a frenetic minority would advocate it as being the best solution. That’s not to say the politics of desperation has no place in the collective imagination—merely that it should only be a motivational actuality, better left unrealized in the interests of preserving the calm stability of human vitality.
US President Barack Obama has singled out inequality as a key pressing problem. His immediate response is to advocate for the raising of the minimum wage, to the point where comparing it with the amount which is actually needed to overcome poverty becomes at least quasi-respectable:
(the text of this story can be found in 2013_12_05)
It’s worth noting that the issue of raising the minimum wage has been embraced by the Democrats:
“In a series of strategy meetings and conference calls among them in recent weeks, they have focused on two levels: an effort to raise the federal minimum wage, which will be pushed by President Obama and congressional leaders, and a campaign to place state-level minimum wage proposals on the ballot in states with hotly contested congressional races.”
A reader, sjford, commented:
“Teenagers in the fast food industry only comprise 25% of the workforce. That means a whopping 75% of that workforce are adults that are living off those wages. A study showed that making all Walmart employees full time at $12/hr would raise the average shopping trip by 11 cents. A burger would go up around 18 cents. These miniscule price increases aren’t going to stop anyone from making these purchases.
The question is do you want to pay more taxes to provide these people with food stamps, medicaid, and housing assistance or do you want multi-billion dollar corporations paying their employees enough to live on? Because you can’t have it both ways. If you’re against a minimum wage increase then you’re FOR paying increased taxes to provide government benefits to these people. Which is it?”
It’s good that an attempt to solve the problem of economic inequality in the US is being initiated directly by the Administration, led by Obama. The centerpiece of the American dream—as written in its Declaration of Independence—arguably is “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness.” This cannot be achieved without fairness in economic opportunities. Antithetical to this idea are poverty and indentured servitude—inadequate remuneration and student debt being only two examples of these. It is readily apparent that raising the minimum wage to such a point where a decent standard of living can be thusly achieved is an extremely important step in guaranteeing fairness in economic opportunity, thereby placing the American dream back within reach of the average person.
Another way of achieving a decent standard of living is to acquire enough education and so qualify one for higher paying positions (2). It is known that a correlation exists between the amount of education attained and the amount one can thusly earn (3). Therefore it is a possibility open to those who are able to acquire the requisite amount of education.
The purpose of attaining education, however, is to “learn how to create,” not to enhance personal economic gain. Chris Hedges (4), Michael Albert (5), and Noam Chomsky (6) have all noted how emphasizing the latter over the former corrupts civilization.
Attempts to safeguard financial wellbeing—such as exemplified by the moves made by the Trilateral Commission ca 1973-75—also corrupt civilization by stifling creativity and thereby also inhibiting economic productivity (7).
As I wrote earlier in this article, I do not believe in “overthrowing the system” by violent revolution. I am by nature a pacifist, a person who first resorts to peace in resolution of conflict, who believes in the supremacy of reason over passion.
I would therefore advocate taking the system from within by achieving necessary education and therefore also the necessary personal economic clout. That one also thusly enhances personal economic gain is a delightful secondary result. More importantly, as stated previously, one’s creativity is enhanced. Most importantly in this particular instance is the acquired ability to effect change in the system from within, specifically to solve the most pressing problem of our time, that is, eliminating gross economic inequality.
However, beware!—the structure of the education system is conducive to making its recipient into a corporate meat puppet. As Vandana Shiva has said, “Education quite clearly replicates control in many, many ways. I come from a country that was colonized by Britain, and one of the instruments of control was education, because education can either free the mind and encourage independent thinking or it can control the mind and condition the mind, and can basically turn you into slaves who voluntarily give up their freedom because they don’t know who else to be, how else to think.” (8)
“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the practice of freedom – the means by which men and women […] discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” (9)
“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”—Milan Kundera (10)
“An education that omits what is needed to understand power thereby protects it. Most of us will pass through school without a single lesson on the roots of inequality… the influence of corporations… or the workings of capitalism.” (11)
“Passive acceptance of the teacher’s wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought… Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes man to seek and accept a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position.”—Bertrand Russell (12)
“A hierarchically-structured workplace demands that we sell more than our time and knowledge. It demands that we sell our obedience. The more skillfully we conform to the logic of the system and obey the agendas of those above us, the more power we will attain.” (13)
“Science couldn’t progress unless it was based on the inculcation of the urge to challenge, to question doctrine, question authority, search for alternatives, use your imagination, act freely under your own impulses, cooperative work with others… That’s my view of what an educational system should be like, down to kindergarten. But there are certainly powerful forces in society which prefer people to be indoctrinated, conform, not ask too many questions, be obedient, fulfill the roles that are assigned to you, and don’t try to shake systems of power and authority. Those are choices we have to make as people, wherever we stand in the educational system, as students, as teachers, as people on the outside trying help shape it in the directions in which we think it ought to go.”—Noam Chomsky (14)
Part of the fight is against the privatization of knowledge. As the song goes, “These days it’s all secrecy and no privacy…” (Fingerprint File, The Rolling Stones). Heroes in this fight are Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Hammond, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Aaron Swartz. They sacrificed dearly in order for the public to remain informed.
An article lists reasons why people today do not want to question authority (15). Briefly, these are:
1. encumbered by student-loan debt (Ref.: “indentured servitude” earlier in this article)
2. psychopathologizing and medicating non-compliance (This is why the too common diagnosis and treatment of ADHD—to give one obvious example—is being questioned)
3. too often schools educate for compliance and not for democracy
4. educational policies such as “No Child Left Behind” and “Race To The Top” (These have the effect of enhancing point #3)
5. shaming young people who take their education—but not their schooling—seriously (Conformity is encouraged, while people who “rock the boat” are shamed)
6. the normalization of surveillance (Google “surveillance” and you will quickly see that it is thought to give rise to conformity)
7. television (I don’t have to explain this, do I?)
8. fundamentalist religion and fundamentalist consumerism (Organized religion typically is narrow-minded and encourages conformity—Pope Francis is a refreshing exception to this! Rampant consumerism is one consequence of long-term corporatist dehumanization (please read 2013_12_01))
Education should be free. In some enlightened countries, it is free. In fact, it’s free here, if one isn’t worried about independent study and not being graded. (I’m writing here about access to education via the Net. MIT open courseware can be found at ocw.mit.edu/index.htm This is one justification for making Net access as widely available as possible.)
It costs surprisingly little to make education (in the traditional sense) free (16).
(Noam Chomsky recounts the story of a professor who was asked what would be covered in his teachings (6). He replied, “It doesn’t matter what we cover. It matters what you discover.” It’s worthwhile and instructive here to recall the story of Srinivasa Ramanujan a mathematical genius self-taught only by one old college textbook, who made astonishing progress in number theory: the point is that obviously if education is freely available, wonderful things can happen.)
Education is not free precisely because the PTB (powers that be) wish for it to be conducive to indoctrination and conformity, as previously pointed out by Noam Chomsky.
Thus, traditional education remains difficult to obtain. This is part of a “dumbing down” agenda partly brought about by the efficacies of the 1972 report “The Crisis of Democracy” and the resultant actions of the Trilateral Commission. The purpose is to loosen the grip of democratic action so that, for example, rights previously won can be taken away with little to no objection. Devices in this respect (in Canada, at least) entail ushering in secret trade deals which are mere corporate Bills Of Rights (CETA, TPP) and restricting access to knowledge by shutting libraries (17), “muzzling” scientists (18), and restricting FOI/ATI requests (19).
It will take a concerted effort for the population at large to shake off the shackles binding their minds to the limits of the status quo, to free themselves from prejudices and forces of conformity, to find new ways in which to think, see, and act. However, that is the only way inequality will finally be overcome.
I close with a couple of quotes:
“Rise like Lions after slumber / in unvanquishable number, / shake your chains to earth like dew / which in sleep had fallen on you / ye are many – they are few”—Percy Bysshe Shelley, from one of his poems The Masque of Anarchy, 1819
“Who but shall learn that freedom is the prize / Man still is bound to rescue or maintain; / That nature’s God commands the slave to rise, / And on the oppressor’s head to break the chain.”—John Quincy Adams, July 1845
(1) From one of Murray Dobbin’s books, The Myth of the Good Corporate Citizen “In 1995 there were ‘only’ 357 billionaires. Their net worth was $760 billion, more wealth than the bottom 45 percent of humanity. That is, 357 people in the world owned more combined wealth than 2.7 billion other people.” According to a 11 March 2010 article in The Globe and Mail titled “The New World Order,” at that time there were over 1,000 billionaires. Some research on the Net showed that their net worth was $3 trillion. I checked with Shannon Daub, Communications Director of the BC Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and she told me that their value was equivalent to the net worth of more than the poorest 3.5 billion human beings (out of 7 billion) on the planet.
Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians, spoke at Toronto’s Massey Hall in protest of the G20 meeting. From Democracy Now, 2 July 2010, here’s a little of what she said: “The richest 2% own more than half the household wealth in the world. The richest 10% hold 85% of total global assets and the bottom half of humanity owns less than 1% of the wealth in the world. The three richest men in the world have more money than the poorest 48 countries.”
(2) The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better For Everyone, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, 2009, Chapter 8, p.103
(3) ibid., Chapter 12, p.161
(4) Empire of Illusion, Chris Hedges, 2009 “We’ve bought into the idea that education is about training and ‘success,’ defined monetarily, rather than learning to think critically and to challenge. We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers. A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.”
(5) The Lottery of Birth, documentary, Michael Albert (09:48-11:10)
(6) The Purpose of Education, interview, Noam Chomsky, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdNAUJWJN08 (11:48-15:33)
(7) op.cit.(5), (17:09-20:30)
(8) op.cit.(5), (20:34-21:08)
(9) op.cit.(5), (23:51)
(10) op.cit.(5), (21:19)
(11) op.cit.(5), (21:25-22:45)
(12) op.cit.(5), (30:07)
(13) op.cit.(5), (36:30-36:53)
(14) op.cit.(6) (04:50-06:08)