Sunday 31 July 2016

Trump vs Clinton vs Sanders: The Blind leading the Blind leading the Blind

Trump vs. Clinton vs. Sanders

The Blind Leading the Blind Leading the Blind

Howard Richards 

My thesis is that the proposals put forward by Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders offer no solutions to the fiscal crisis of the state, and partly for this reason do not and cannot promise social integration. I am not complaining. I am just trying to do my part as a philosopher to help generate better ideas, ideas that will work.

First I will cite some typical proposals of the three candidates as background to help me explain my thesis.

- Then I will explain my thesis.
- Then I will suggest solutions to the fiscal crisis of the state.
- Then I will suggest some ways to achieve social integration.
- Last I will suggest some further readings.

In his campaign book Crippled America Trump proposes a trillion-dollar plan for rebuilding America’s infrastructure designed to produce 13 million jobs.  He also proposes strengthening the military.  He proposes tax cuts even greater than the legendary tax cuts made under President Ronald Reagan. To pay for infrastructure and weapons in spite of lower taxes, he expects revenue from closing tax loopholes and from imposing tariffs on imports.  He expects the tax cuts plus economic nationalism to stimulate more investment, more sales, and more income, and therefore a larger tax base.
Clinton is more specific.  On her campaign Website Clinton proposes increased spending mainly on education, health, and infrastructure calculated to sum to 1.7 trillion dollars over ten years. She proposes tax increases on business and higher incomes plus some cost savings calculated to sum to 1.6 trillion dollars over the same ten years.

On infrastructure Sanders’ proposal is in general terms is the same as Trump’s: rebuild America at a cost of a trillion dollars thereby creating 13 million jobs.  He proposes a way to pay for it:  capture taxes now evaded by shifting assets to tax havens like the Cayman Islands and closing other loopholes, which a Congressional Research Service report estimates could yield 100 billion per year for ten years.   Sanders proposes free tuition for all students at public universities, to be paid for by financial transactions taxes that a University of Massachusetts study estimates would bring in 300 billion dollars per year.  He has a revenue plan for each of his spending plans.

Each of these major United States political figures has given thought to how to raise the money their proposals require. My thesis implies that they are thinking inside the limitations of a dysfunctional dominant paradigm. It suggests that liberalism (known in the United States as “conservatism”) will not work.   It suggests that social democracy (known in the United States as “liberalism”) will not work in the forms Clinton and Sanders have proposed.

Here are some anomalies may serve to loosen the grip of the dominant paradigm and to motivate a willingness to rethink fundamentals. They are adduced not to prove points but to open minds:
  1. The USA had major tax cuts under Reagan and under G.W. Bush. They have been recently kept in place by a Republican congress. They have not been followed by prosperity for all.  They have been followed by ballooning public debt.
  2. In the latter part of the 19th century and until 1913 the United States was a neoliberal (“conservative”) utopia.  Government was minimal. Taxes were minimal. During long decades during that period the USA was mired in recessions and depressions. During all of that period the majority of the people were dirt poor.
  3. Projecting that new taxes can pay for new spending does not solve the problem of inability to pay for old spending. The US government is 19 trillion in debt and going is deeper into debt every day even without new spending.
  4. Every other country that has tried democratic socialism has clashed with the reality encountered by President Salvador Allende of Chile who said frequently, “We have the government but we do not have the power.”
My Thesis
My thesis is rooted in philosophical realism, in John Dewey’s pragmatism, and in the philosophies of John Searle and Charles Taylor which as far as I know do not have special names. I start with a realist Earth Story, the common story of all humanity, a worldview that is suitable for seeking consensus on how to adjust culture to its physical functions because (unlike the myth of the social contract) it is true.
Culture (often synonymous with religion) is the ecological niche of the human species; it is what has given tribes and nations the cohesion to cooperate and hence to survive. Every culture has a basic structure.  It is the normative framework that governs producing and distributing the basic necessities of life. Our culture is basically governed by the constitutive rules of markets (they are the dominant paradigm).

The rules of the market game are the rules of buying and selling.   In the dominant paradigm production is for sale and sale is for profit. Nobody is obliged to buy.  Some do not. Those who do not find buyers who will pay them enough money to live on (of whom in a pure market game there must inevitably be some) are the losers. They are excluded from the game.

Governments are perennially caught in the dilemma between lowering taxes to stimulate the economy and raising taxes to pay their current expenses plus the interest on their debts.  Typically, if they raise taxes they drive wedges between buyers and sellers. The wedges diminish sales because the wedge means that the buyer pays more than the seller receives.  Hence they diminish profits, which diminishes investment. (Taxes that do not drive such wedges are another subject, one recently treated admirably by Thomas Pikkety.) Impoverished and disempowered governments cannot meet their obligations as guarantors of human rights; for example, the right to security in old age.  There is a permanent inability of the state to structure the society in ways that meet the needs of the people in harmony with the natural environment.

The fiscal crisis of the state is a permanent consequence of the constitutive rules of the dominant paradigm whenever citizens demand their rights.   Nothing in the proposals of Trump, Clinton, or Sanders (and nothing in those of Le Pen, Sarkozy, Hollande and so forth) changes this fundamental underlying social reality.

The idea of “social integration” comes from Emile Durkheim. Durkheim drew maps of Europe showing that in the more modern (more capitalist) areas the rate of suicide was higher. In the more traditional areas the rate of suicide was lower. In a modern society those who are not integrated are in the first place the losers in the marketplace mentioned above, but Durkheim’s idea is broader.   They are also the millions whom hyper-markets dehumanize by commercializing every thing and dissolving every community, as well as millions who suffer a similar fate for a variety of other reasons.  Durkheim’s turn-of-the-twentieth-century concept of social integration, and its corollaries normlessness and loneliness, anticipated Paulo Freire’s 1960s identification of dehumanization as the concrete historical fact that defines our epoch. 

Solutions to the Fiscal Crisis of the State

There are two complementary ways to solve it. One is for all of us to assume more responsibility for guaranteeing human rights, for example the right to health care. Then the duties of the government as guarantor-of-last-resort of human rights will be performed at less cost to the public purse. This first way calls for an ethic of service and stewardship. It calls for reviving the old-fashioned concept of vocation; and for reviving - if anybody still remembers it-the old-fashioned concept of profession. It calls for an emphasis on moral development in education; on corporate social responsibility and shared value; it calls for neighbours who join together to fight crime and to be sure that nobody in the neighbourhood is going hungry or is abandoned to face illness and/or old age alone. And so forth.  “Points of light.”  The second solution, complementary to the first, reverses what was done in the 18th century when the victorious third estate deliberately made government subservient to property-owners by making its budget depend exclusively on taxes voted by them. (In the 18th century democracy had not yet fully arrived; for example, the same French Assembly of 1789 that wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen decreed that the only voters would be adult male property owners.)
One approach -there are others- to putting the state on a sound fiscal footing would be to reframe the large banks as quasi-public institutions. Astronomical profits now flowing into the purses of the 1% would then flow into the public purse. This would reverse the precedent set by the English “Glorious Revolution” of 1688-1692 which made the Bank of England a private institution independent of the sovereign. The sovereign issuer of the currency -now the sovereign people- would again play a larger and more profitable role.

Some Ways to Achieve Social Integration

Traditionally key roles in social integration have been played by major institutions older than capitalism: families and churches. Today we have new kids on the block: schools, psychologists, self-help groups like Al-Anon, Facebook groups, and others. In spite of the efforts of socializing institutions new and old, modern societies are still generating too little humanity and too much inhumanity.  Hillary Clinton’s proposal to make more psychotherapy available at community care centres is a major step in the right direction. It will do more to stop insane rampages by lone terrorists than any number of bombs dropped on Iraq. Bernie Sanders supports it. To the best of my knowledge Donald Trump has not yet commented on it.
Achieving social integration calls for more and better employment in a world where some have no work, some work but do not earn enough to live in dignity, and where some working conditions are the cause of --not the cure for-- psychopathology. Mahatma Gandhi advocated a traditional Hindu rule for those who have no work:  the unemployed should find something useful to do and do it. I agree.  When you can’t find a buyer who will pay you money for your services, serve anyway. Volunteer. The other side of the coin is that those of us who are winners in the market must one way or another support the volunteers. In general, the other side of the coin is funding livelihoods that do not depend on sales.
The general problem is how to include those whom the market excludes. I am suggesting that the general solution is to recycle the surplus. It should flow from where surplus exists (where by definition it is not needed, because if it were needed it would not be surplus) to where it is needed.  Of course there has to be surplus in the first place. Creating surplus is a social function of capitalists and inventors like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, and of the millions who on a lesser scale put productive organizations together and make them work.

A Few Readings
Margaret Archer, Realist Social Theory.  Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Glyn Davies, A History of Money.  Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2002.
John Gibbs, Moral Development and Reality.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Jürgen Habermas, Legitimation Crisis.  Boston: Beacon Press, 1975.
Tony Lawson, Reorienting Economics.  London:  Routledge, 2003.
James O’Connor, The Fiscal Crisis of the State.  New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Books, 1973.
Howard Richards, Say’s Law 2016
Howard Richards, The Impossibility of Politics and How to Make Politics Possible 2016
Howard Richards and Joanna Swanger, Dilemmas of Social Democracies. Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006.
Howard Richards and Joanna Swanger, Gandhi and the Future of Economics.  Lake Oswego OR: Dignity Press, 2013.
Jeremy Rifkin, The Zero Marginal Cost Society.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
Joseph Stiglitz, The Great Divide.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Saturday 30 July 2016

Vital values - and formation

“The ethos that stresses the ‘punctual self’ with its disengaged reason and its disembodied ego generates a climate that threatens, both publicly and privately, the flourishing of all but vital values.” [Fred Lawrence, “The Ethics of Authenticity and the Human Good, in Honor of Michael Vertin, an Authentic Colleague,” The Meaning and Importance of Insight: Essays in Honor of Michael Vertin, ed. John J. Liptay and David S. Liptay (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007) 136.] Vital values recalls Zac’s apology for staging Grease in Matunga: what values? Vital values. And here is an interesting analysis: modernity so banishes moral and religious values that that the only ones allowed to flourish in the public space are vital values, which Fred Lawrence describes in terms of “the overall health, strength and graceful comportment of our bodies.” [FL 135.] But, as Fred says above, the climate threatens both publicly and privately…. A climate that consecrated persons are not immune from, in any way. So there is a tug of war, between ‘formation’ and ‘formation.’ The social agent used to support once; now it opposes; and the Salesian self is formed in the in between, and who knows how, and to whom it belongs, to whom allegiance is finally or daily given, and who rules. That is the question: who rules. And here the relevance of the primacy of God.

Sunday 17 July 2016

The darkness of faith

In a letter to Matthew Lamb, Lonergan spoke of the darkness and obscurity of faith - a phrase that recalls John of the Cross' dark night of the soul, and also Eric Voegelin's reflection on "the tenuous bond of faith in the sense of Heb. 11:1, as the substance of things hoped for and the proof things unseen:
Ontologically, the substance of things hoped for is nowhere to be found but in faith itself; and, epistemologically, there is no proof for things unseen but again this very faith. The bond is tenuous, indeed, and it may snap easily. The life of the soul in its openness toward God, the waiting, the periods of aridity and dullness, guilt and despondency, contrition and repentance, forsakenness and hope against hope, the silent stirrings of love and grace, trembling on the verge of a certainty which if gained is loss – the very lightness of this fabric may prove too heavy a burden for men who lust for massively possessive experience. (Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics: An Introduction [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952] 122. Cited in Fred Lawrence, "Growing in Faith as the Eyes of Being-in-Love with God," section entitled 'Jesus's Loving Obedience to the Law of the Cross and Our Life in 'the Darkness and Obscurity of faith'. Frederick G. Lawrence, The Fragility of Consciousness: Faith, Reason and the Human Good, ed. Randall S. Rosenberg and Kevin M. Vander Schel, to be published by University of Toronto Press in 2017.) 
I was struck here by Voegelin's reference to the lust "for massively possessive experience."  

The sun rises

When I look at the sun rising every day, I still think of it as having made the whole long journey around the world in 24 hours, and I marvel - despite all I have learnt in school. I know somewhere in my mind that it is the earth, this earth on which I am standing and walking, that is spinning around itself like a top, at top speed, while also hurtling around the sun at who knows how many thousand km.p.h. I know all this, or perhaps it might be better to say I believe this is true. And yet I am able to "stand still" and "walk around" this earth, and if I jump I land back - usually - in the same place. I know - or I believe - that this is the famous law of inertia - or perhaps it is in some way part of the relativity of motion. And then I remember all sorts of things, like for example the "lack of intelligibility" of uniform motion, and that it is change of motion - acceleration or deceleration - that requires to be explained. "A body continues to be at rest or in uniform motion unless and until it is acted upon by an equal and opposite force" or something like that. So the book that I drop in a swiftly train usually falls at my feet and not at the last station that we passed... And I can stand and walk and run and jump on this swiftly moving globe that is our earth. And I learn to make sense of "things-as-related-to-us" and "things as related among themselves."
"Modern science has in common with the Aristotelian notion of science only one feature: the movement from the 'first-for-us' [priora quoad nos] of the commonsense cognitional perspective expressed in ordinary language to the 'first-in-themselves' [priora quoad se] of a theoretical cognitional perspective expressed in technical terms and relations. As Lonergan explains, commonsense understanding is descriptive in the sense that it understands things-in-relation-to-our-senses. Thus, operating in terms of common sense, we speak of the sun rising and setting, and of the sun as revolving around the earth. In contrast, the perspective of theoretical understanding characteristic of science is explanatory in the sense that it understands things-in-relation-to-each-other. So the scientist puts the sun at the center of the solar system, and knows that the earth spins on its axis every 24 hours at the same time as it revolves around the sun." (Fred Lawrence, "'Transcendence from Within': Benedict XVI and Jürgen Habermas on the Dialogue between Secular Reason and Religious Faith," D. Modern Dehellenization.)

Thursday 14 July 2016

The secret of team work

From Ted Montemayor again (State of the Province Address to Provincial Chapter 2016 SUO)

A US President once said:
“on my desk in the Oval Office, I have a little sign that says:  There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”
Ronald Reagan


Listening and dialoguing

From Ted Montemayor's address to the provincial chapter, SUO 2016:

As I traveled the province, I often quoted Pope Francis referring to his visit to our country back in September.  Addressing the Bishops of the United States at the Cathedral of St. Matthew he said:

“It is not my intention to offer a plan or to devise a strategy.  I have not come to judge you or to lecture you.  I trust completely in the voice of the One who, “Teaches all things” (John 14:26).  Allow me only, in the freedom of love, to speak to you as a brother among brothers.  I have no wish to tell you what to do, because we all know what it is that the Lord asks of us.  Instead, I would turn once again to the demanding task-ancient yet never new-of seeking out the paths we need to take and the spirit with which we need to work.  Without claiming to be exhaustive, I would share with you some reflections which I consider helpful for our mission.”

Pope Francis came as a brother to dialogue, to listen, to encourage and to show appreciation.  I hope we can do that these days.   To listen, to encourage, to dream and vision, to show appreciation for each other and our ministries.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Revision of the Manual of Prayer - first meeting in Rome, 8-10 July 2016

Our meeting for the revision of the manual of prayer In Dialogue with the Lord was an implementation of # 67.7 of GC27, which asked for such a revision. The last version of In dialogo con i Signore - we take the Italian as the standard version - was in 1990; there was a much smaller book in 1973.
Our meeting began with a greeting by the Rector Major, where among other things he reminded us that the manual should reflect the internationality of the congregation.
Next, a lectio divina led by José Luis Plascencia, SDB, on the scripture citations in the chapter on prayer of our Constitutions. A whole morning dedicated to this, ending with the Eucharist.
The afternoon was filled with a huge discussion about the quality of Salesian prayer, or rather about the way Salesians pray, with the big question: will a new manual change anything for the better? Is it worthwhile at all revising the manual? In the end, a small decision: to go ahead with our work, knowing that it is, in the end, a simple and humble, if precious, task.
In the process we have been discovering the manual of 1990: very well done, with introductions that are wonderful summaries of Salesian prayer, strongly aware of the call of Vatican II to begin from the word of God, and its promotion of the liturgy. But also the discovery that the manual is hardly used by confreres and communities, and quite unknown in some parts of the congregation. In fact, it would appear that there is no version in German and in French. Large parts of francophone Africa, therefore, do not know this manual. In other parts, there has been a substantial work of inculturation and contextualization, as for example in the manual of the South Asia region, also used in anglophone Africa.
Another big discussion was whether to go in for a revision of the 1900 manual, or a little handbook along the lines of the manual of the FMA. No conclusion to this discussion - only a close and careful study and familiarity with the 1990 text will lead us to an enlightened decision.
But most of all, we need to keep in mind certain changes that have taken place since 1990. The Rector Major already reminded us of one of these: the marked consciousness of the internationality of the congregation. The other great change - and this is truly significant - is the digital revolution. As Filiberto Gonzalez Plascencia reminded me later - the young salesians live in a different world. We need to work our way into this new world, this digital world. Perhaps then the revised manual will take the form of an App.
A question that came to me was also this one: how much does the manual of 1900 reflect the fact that we live our vocation in two forms, the ministerial and the lay, the Salesian priest or deacon, and the Salesian Brother?
For now, the work has been divided, and we hope to get a first draft in the space of a year.
Suggestions are most welcome - especially from the digital generation.

New style of working together

 “Diseño  de las nuevas posibles presencias tomando en cuenta  que comportan un proceso comunitario de corresponsabilidad, un recorrido específico de discernimiento y decisión, una preparación de las personas para los nuevos papeles, un itinerario de actuación que es necesariamente gradual sin que por ello sea lento”. (Juan Vecchi,  año….)

Quoted in the ECU provincial chapter 2015 document. Vecchi is talking about a new style of community and work which is participatory, empowering, with coresponsibility, discernment, preparation of persons for new tasks, and the expectation that working together in this manner will be gradual though not necessarily slow.... 

I guess all our work with process, teams, Ascolto and Discernimento is part of this new style.

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Rupnik, “E se l’evangelizzazione chiedesse una novità nella vita consacrata?” English summary