by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, 1/16/21
Most people assume the best possible society will be one where everyone has a good job and can be self reliant along with the freedom to make what they want out of their life. That was the direction America was taking until a revolution in the 1970s, when a few people had a new vision of the future. Since then the best possible society was decided in favor of the wellbeing of corporations over a the last five decades. Unfortunately, corporate success depends on having fewer employees. They have chosen profits and automation over people. The citizens of America want jobs, but the citizens of corporations want profits. Whose future will win out?
If you put your faith in politicians and think they will bring happiness to Americans with more jobs then you are deluded. The past four years were Trump feeding his massive ego which distracted us from the real issues. But electing Biden is not going to save us either. Arguing over partisan politics is like brawling in the ballroom of the Titanic an hour before hitting the iceberg.
If we stay on our present course America will collapse economically before climate change can do us in. If we want to avoid both hells then we must decide on a better final destination. It will require cooperation. It will also require knowledge, but not the kind of knowledge you can get off the internet or cable news. The amount of knowledge needed will require studying books, lots of books, and not books written by egomaniacs trying to become rich.
The problems we’re facing and will face are so enormous that it will take a significant percentage of the population working together to solve them. If we want that future where everyone has a good job it will require a new kind of education. We used to believe higher education guaranteed a successful future. But the kind of education I’m talking about is not technical job training or academic enrichment. What we need is to educate ourselves about a holistic understanding of our present reality. However, most citizens of this society have chosen to deny reality, or accept it and just enjoy themselves as much as possible before the apocalypse.
Remember in The Matrix when Neo was told he’d need a lot of guns to overthrow the machines, and rows and rows or armaments sped past him? Yeah, well we need to read lots of books, rows and rows of bookcases. At a guess, a good portion of the voting population needs to start reading one important nonfiction book a month to alter our path and avoid the twin icebergs of climate change and wealth inequality. Will that happen? I doubt it.
We’re now more polarized politically than anytime in my lifetime. The country is almost perfectly divided into two opposing philosophies. The conservatives want free market capitalism with winners take all. The liberals want capitalism supplemented with socialism to protect the losers. Strangely, I see it as the Darwinians v. Christians, even though the conservatives see themselves as Christian, I see them as advocates of survival of the fittest, while liberals want to follow the teachings from the Sermon on the Mount, yet expect the Darwinians to pay for the sick, lame, and homeless.
If we continue on the current path blazed by libertarian free-market true believers, all the wealth will be sucked out of the middle and lower classes, and probably even from the lower upper classes. The future promises a small wealthy class with their robots and corporations, and a vast lower class, struggling to survive off a small basic income. If you believe in trickle down economics then why are the richest cities in America being overrun by homeless encampments and decay? If you don’t believe me watch these videos about L.A., San Francisco, and Miami.
These are just a few images that show the result of our present economic policies. They are like the early signs of climate change that everyone wants to ignore. I’m old enough to look back over 50-60 years of history and change. Most people believe things stay the same. They don’t. The societal erosion you see in these films will spread like kudzu unless we change course. But how?
In physics we’ve learned that space and time are really one thing and we should refer to it as spacetime. And we’ve also learned that the mind and body are not separate and should refer to it as the mindbody. Well, the same is true for politics and economy, it’s really the politicaleconomy. When new concepts emerge they go through a phase first as two words, then as two-words, and finally as oneword. We’re still thinking in the political economy phase, but after reading Evil Geniuses by Kurt Andersen I’m going to think of it as the politicaleconomy, and even bypass the hyphen phase.
If you only see politics in terms of liberal and conservative, or Democrats and Republicans then you’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. If you only look at the economy in terms of gains and losses then you’re not even seeing the tip. Evil Geniuses will not give you a complete holistic view of current politicaleconomic reality, but it will hint at it. Andersen is a synthesizer who has written a history of the politicaleconomy beginning in the late 1950s to show how our present state of the politicaleconomy evolved. It’s very complicated, and like Einstein working to develop a Grand Unified Theory Andersen does not succeed.
It comes down to simplex, complex, and multiplex. Most humans want simplex answers to explain reality. The more we study reality, the more complex reality appears. Focusing on single systems causing complexity in our minds. It’s only until we try to see how multiple systems work together that we develop multiplexity of thinking.
Personally, I’m smart enough to see complexity and intuit a bit of multiplexity. I believe Andersen is able to mentally juggle several complexities and visualize a certain level of multiplexity to be able to write about it. I envy him that ability. I envy that because simplex thinking is very satisfying. Complex thinking is stressful, even painful and discordant. It’s only until we get into the multiplexity stage do things become calm again, and we hear the harmony of relationships between system interactions.
Reading Evil Geniuses and exploring the individual observations Andersen makes has reduced some of the political anxiety I acquired from 2016-2020. Donald Trump wasn’t the real issue even though we’ve agonized over his impact for years. He was just a rash and not the underlying disease. Most Americans are riled up politically but are looking for answers in all the wrong places. We keep trying to cure symptoms and not the disease. Until we think of the politicaleconomy as one holistic system that includes all life on Earth we’re going to stay the course towards extinction. We need to be working towards a new word, the politicaleconomybiosphere.
I cannot properly review this book without restating almost everything that’s in it, and Kurt Andersen has already done that, so just read it. Don’t expect to accept everything he says. I haven’t yet. But if you’re like me, do expect to want to read his sources, or at least other books about the issues covered. For example, I bought a Milton Friedman book to understand the other side of things. One book ain’t going to cut it. If you’ve ever gotten fascinated by a subject and had to read everything you can about it, that’s how I feel now about the politicaleconomy.
Reading Evil Geniuses made me realize I wasn’t paying proper attention to the history of the last fifty years. Andersen chronicles no secret cabal of conspirators, all those evil geniuses were working completely out in the open. Another realization I take away from the book is don’t assume the nightly news will tell us what we need to know. Following the sensational stories on TV and the internet is watching the delusional argue over how many angels fit on the head of a pin.
Understanding comes from longer essays, like those in The Atlantic or The Economist, or from good solidly researched books. And that reading never ends, because there’s always need for deeper insights. For example, I think I need to read The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert J. Gordon to understand the history before the history outlined in Evil Geniuses and Dark Money by Jane Mayer. But it’s also important to read opposing views, like Age of Discovery by Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna.
That’s a lot of relentless reading. Is it practical to imagine that a significant portion of the voting public will do this kind of reading? No, not really. That’s why the movers and shakers of the economic right were able to achieve their goals. They used their knowledge to change just a few institutions and people to alter the course of history. Can liberals make such surgical decisions to reflate the wealth of the middle and lower classes? I won’t know until I read a lot more. If you know of any books that offer such insights, let me know.
5 thoughts on “The Future Is About Jobs”
And then there’s me with what is essentially the diametrically opposed understanding of the thing.
“Most people assume the best possible society will be one where everyone has a good job and can be self reliant along with the freedom to make what they want out of their life. That was the direction America was taking until a revolution in the 1970s, when a few people had a new vision of the future.”
That was true until the baby-boomers fell for all that crap that started in our child-hood. You were there: “To get a good job, get a good education.” And what was reason for all those childhood memories? Ah yes, those Russians had beat us into space and we needed those “bright minds” with “higher education” if we were going to “catch ’em” because, don’t you know, them nasty Russians were going to nuke us into oblivion…from outer space. And then by the time we, those boomers, were in high school, well, there was that little thing called “Viet Nam” going on and hell, the best way to avoid that? Go to college. Get a degree…in anything…like “Business Management”. Yeah, that’s a good one. How did anyone ever run a business, of any size, without that college degree.
But something else had happened, in the ’60s, before that “…the direction America was taking until a revolution in the 1970s….” You can’t have this discussion without including LBJ, yeah, a Democrat (since this is clearly going to be about political parties and affiliation) who gave us “Civil Rights” and introduced his “Great Society”. Yes, he was going to save all those black people who had been victims of segregation…yep, back when when I were kids. And those “Civil Rights”? No, not for everyone, mind you, but just black people. And sure, white folks here in the south, at least my little part of world–and my own little part of the world is the only thing I even pretend to speak about with any personal, requisite knowledge and experience–weren’t all that happy about but we got over it and there I was, in high school, in the late ’60s, in school with black kids for the first time and…and damn, we got along just fine. And we all graduated. And a bunch of yep, mostly them white kids ran off to college…to get those “good jobs”…and the rest of us started working…those “blue-collar” jobs.
And we, hell, even the whole country, seemed to be rather well. I mean, it was the ’70s. All that “soul music” and disco dancing? What was there not to like? But in retrospect, I did have the opportunity to gather yet another personal point of view about things. In ’78, there I was, this white guy, born and raised in the south, found himself working in a maximum-medium prison. And holy hell! Seventy percent of those inmates were…black. Seriously? But…but none of them, not one, ever (!) “blamed the system,” ever (!) blamed “racism,” ever (!) said they were “victims” of anything…other than, well, doing the crime and now doing the time.
And then came the ’80s and yeah, sure, Regan was president. But you leave out that also starting to “run everything” were those damned baby-boomers, out of college, armed with degrees and titles, and preaching a gospel of something called “Liberal Arts”. So they went to get that “good education” so they could get that “good job” and along the way, they became willing converts to this “Liberal Arts”. But you gotta go back in time again because now that these baby-boomers were all grown up, armed with their college degrees, now better and smarter than everyone else, well hell, they had to have somewhere to dump their chillins, you know, because mommy was now part of the work force. Yes, just like “blacks at the back of the bus” was part of our childhood, so was “women should be barefoot and pregnant”. And just like they had done protesting that conflict–not a war, remember–in Viet Nam, those ladies had fought for, and won, their “equality”. Hooray. Now the ladies were working and those chillins would spend all their time in day-care and then off to public schools and colleges, where that those Liberal Arts would continue to be taught because that philosophy, that religion, that “whatever in the hell” it really was, and remains, was going to save us all, from ourselves.
So there I was, now in the ’80s, and getting fired from and quitting one job after the other because…yep, most of my bosses were now those damned baby-boomers. And yep, Regan was running the show and yep, corporate America was indeed busting wide damned open.
But I would love to see you write a piece about that history of when “corporations” became “people,” “legal fictions” they are called. And in that now 100+ years, I haven’t see any president, of either party, take issue with that…although some people say that might have something to do with why JFK was assassinated. But that is moving away from the topic.
So there we were, in the ’80s, corporations growing like mad, people working–men people, women people, black men and black women people, all working and again, essentially getting along well enough so the nightly news wasn’t about “hate” and “race” and all that stuff.
But then the ’90s hit. What stands out from the ’90?
First thing, from me, this now old white guy here in the south, the guy who retired a couple of years ago after having had worked for nearly employers, is…NAFTA. Yes, I remember the televised debates between the three–yes, three–possible candidates. And one of ’em warned everybody what would happen if NAFTA passed. And who exactly was the president and what political party forced that on the American people? It wasn’t the greedy Republicans, now was it?
And something else “caught my attention,” something called “hip-hop” and “rap” music. I mean suddenly, almost as if by magic, there was a young generation of–and at least according to the music–mostly young black people who had nothing else to do but…but listen to music and…
But wait. That’s another of those tangents, now isn’t it? Wasn’t it the same Democratic president who have us NAFTA that also gave “the people” what they wanted, back then, you know, more police in the streets because all hell was breaking loose…in those inner cities?
And look, yet another piece of the puzzle falls into place. The country was starting to be talked about being divided, no, not “North v South,” not this time. Now that division was between those big cities, those “inner cities,” and then the rest of country, small-town and country folk. And now the talk was starting be about all those women, in those “inner cities,” having all those babies, and not being married, but getting all the “free” money from the government…and the more babies they had, the more free money. Oh, wait. That sorta started with LBJ, now didn’t it?
And at the same time? Well, any and all new laws passed to help out those “big cities,” those “inner cities,” also became law for, well, everyone else. After all, ain’t that the way our “democracy” works? So, as yet just one tangent, all those “gun control” laws–passed with oh the best of intentions–to help those “poor” inner city folks, were now laws…everywhere.
So up to this point, I have lived through a Democrat, LBJ, who, and now I’ll just be rude, promised black people something for nothing, you know, to “make up for the past” but also because he really was quite the racist prick himself…but oh my, he did know how to “play the crowd”. And then Regan, a Republican, came along and played to, yes indeed, absolutely so, his crowd, those rich corporations, those, yes “people”. And then came another Democrat, Clinton, who shipped the jobs, yep, mostly south of the border. Stop. Did I just write “south of the border”?
That would require another trip to the past, wouldn’t it, to examine the history of immigration, to this county, and again, in just my, and your, lifetime. But I was indeed alive and kicking when it was decided that “immigration”…from Western Europe…needed to end and what was needed were people from…”south of the border”. And oh, that is a fascinating bit of history, now isn’t it?
And here is where I stop. If not, I can and will just keep writing, keep having this same debate with you I have been having over and over with me, just myself, for all of my life. I mean, I noticed you start to talk about “Christians” and “Darwinians” and then throw in the political “Liberals”.
But this is how you wrap it up:
“That’s why the movers and shakers of the economic right were able to achieve their goals. They used their knowledge to change just a few institutions and people to alter the course of history.”
Oh, I see. And the political left has never, ever controlled, manipulated, played people, “used their knowledge,” in order to “change just a few institutions and people to alter the course of history”? Is that why you truly, personally believe?
“Can liberals make such surgical decisions to reflate the wealth of the middle and lower classes?”
That is what all of “this” is about? That’s it? You don’t like that “some people” have more money than others? Really?
James, you and I both know that absolutely nothing else in the annals of recorded human history better both describes and defines the human: Some humans have an isatiable thirst for wealth, power, and control over others. The rest do not. They seem to be the simple, and apparently simple-minded, folks content to “live and let live”. And you have studied this stuff far more than I have but you and I have had front row seats for the last 68 years to watch that same game play out, and it always plays out the same way. And yet you still believe that there is…is what…a “fix” for it all, that only if “everyone” could agree on…on this point of view or that everyone should have this, be entitled to that…that what…Man just might yet be successful in creating…what…Utopia?
This is where we simply part company. You truly believe that each and every single human being on this planet…is the same…is “equal” in terms of “intelligence”. But no, you really don’t because you also have zero problem with some humans, those who clearly are “more intelligent,” those who have “more education,” governing and controlling everyone else who, at some point, should be at least “intelligent enough” to accept that these “rulers” really are acting in the “best interests” of everyone. But that begins yet another war, doesn’t it? Who, exactly, should be running the show? Should it be those educated in, oh, maybe science, or should it be those “masters” of the law? Oh, but all can agree that it should not any “religious” person, right? Ah, the evil trinity of the 21st century: Politics, Science, and Religion. All at war with each but each promising to make life better…for everyone.
And of course, no one should complain about those “at the top”–of this Ruling Class–living, well, a bit better than the rest of because they are, after all, that Ruling Class, but you don’t like the idea, for example, that those humans who “create the jobs” have a bit more than the workers. But that’s true regardless of where you go on this planet, regardless of who runs the show and regardless of what they profess to believe, and believe in. Ah, that is quite telling, I think.
So on one hand, the problems of the world, those “socio-political” problems are “because of” human nature. At the same time, however, they are “in spite of” that same nature.
So when I say we “part company,” all I mean is you still have, what “hope” for the human animal? Pfft. Not me. Forget recorded human history. Returning to the brevity of my own personal history included here, I gave up…completely gave up, threw in the towel…in the ’90s. As always, with me, personally? After all these years, I am now simply bored, as hell, with watching it all play out, decade after decade, election after election, year after year, day after day.
So now back to standing there with Nero, watching it all burn as he plays his fiddle.
James, as always, thanks for enduring my little diatribes. You stay safe and be well.
Randy, you should read Evil Geniuses, you might find a lot in there to like. I hated the Citizens United decision. Corporations are not humans. And I don’t equate corporations with just the conservatives. Although corporations aren’t human, they are separate entities that fight for survival. Corporations will use either party, or any party, or any legal entity to get what they want. They are like Frankenstein monsters that have gotten free of their Dr. Frankenstein’s command. I’m not even sure the billionaires who run them actually control them. In War and Peace Tolstoy made a good argument that Napoleon did not control his army because when entities get too complex they are impossible to control.
It might be a delusion of mine that humans still have a chance to decide their fates. There is always an endless pile of things to complain about, but equally, there’s just a large pile of things to give thanks for. It’s hard to separate the two.
I know a lot of people have thrown in the towel, and I don’t blame them. Individuals have no power and trying to gain any kind of control over our lives is endlessly frustrating. I’m only theorizing here that it’s possible to change the game for the better. Even defining what’s better is impossible. But for me, I can imagine a modified version of capitalism that protects the planet, allows some people to be rich, most to prosper, have families, and good careers, and minimize the number of folks who live wretched lives. We can be better than the red tooth and claw of nature.
“Corporations are not humans.”
James, that is exactly where any and all attempts to “make the world a better place” has to begin. Yes, I have zero idea of what/how all that “corporate-stuff” is like everywhere else on the planet. I not only don’t know. I don’t care. That really is “their” problem. And to use popular political jargon only because it is convenient? This discussion of “corporations” and their “personhood” is the one topic that will send me to the far, far political “left” quicker’n anything else. Or this way, and then I shut up: I must’ve been a cowboy, in a past life, who rode in from the “wild west” one day and saw my first “automobile” and I knew, at that moment, that everything about the life I had always known was over.
James, as always (!), you remain the one chap who can and will disagree…but it always those damnable details…but always remains civil and kind…those very qualities that do give life meaning and purpose…and yes, even…hope.
Take care of yourself and for what it is worth, I really am on your side in terms of that “bigger picture”.
You can bet that 2021 will be a Good Year economically because the Government will pump another couple trillion dollars into it. At the same time, the coronavirus will kill off another couple hundred thousand Americans. What our country will look like in a year will be vastly different from what we’re dealing with today. But, eventually, all those trillions in Debt will come home to roost.