POPULISM--government for the masses

Five Steps Forward, on building a just society

Five Steps Forward, on building a just society
Economic and Political quotes
10 bold ideas--Gar Alperovitz

Five Steps Forward:  design for the promotion of the public weal -- (6/12, 1/23/13)

Topics: 1) education, 2) political oversight by the masses, 3) economic planning, 4) cohesive society, 5) ideal citizens

Below is a rewrite of Eight Steps Forward with significant modifications.  Since elections have not produced a government for the people, the original contained a section on how to prevent the hijacking of the election of legislators by special interests.  After living with this essay since 1998, it dawned on me in June of 2012 that a much different method for governing would best promote an effective voice of the people for social justice.  We don’t need elected officials, just a system which would permit promotion based on merit (like in the military and at universities).  The purpose of government is to promote the public weal (the well-being of all citizens, each person counts as one--popularized by Jeremy Bentham, 1772).  And following Plato’s idea voiced in The Republic:  once the best are in control, and they serve best their own interests by promoting the public weal, then good government will evolve.

Problem I:  The citizens are poorly educated and are misinformed by corporate media, which negatively impacts their ability to through the vote to promote their best interests, and it also effects directly their ability to behave prudently, thereby affects the quality of their lives.  The corporate influence has perverted both the media and the educational system by dumbing-down content, and reducing content that promotes critical analysis, while also using the media and education to inculcate a set of beliefs about economics, morals, civic duty, and social justice that serves the power elite. In the media, they also promote consumerism, set up false idols, and project a false image of what the good life is.  The masses (the bottom 90%) need understand “what truly is the good life”, so that they can act to maximize their well-being[i].  In a democratic society the masses need to have an understanding of social justice and economics so that their voice can produce the best of results.  The masses need to have the rational skills to evaluate complex issues relating to ideal life style and social justice, and a knowledge of what is going on.  The quality of life is closely tied to a living wage and their cognitive abilities, which will help them to select—as Epicurus termed—“the purer pleasures”. 


Solution:  improving the educational system, would also include the media:  The systems which affect beliefs should not serve the market place, but rather function to promote the good life. The direction of educational policy and media content needs to be controlled by professors who have demonstrated a primary concern for the public’s well-being.  Professors who have faith in an informed and liberally educated public would be selected by their peers.  These professors would control the content of education and media, methods of teaching, and budgets.  These professors would from their love of quality education transform the media and the school curriculums. 


Problem II:  Need for a political voice for the masses:  The voice of the people has been made a tool of the ruling elite through the electoral system.   As Aristotle put it, “A democracy exists whenever those who are free and poor are in sovereign control of the government; an oligarchy when the control lies in the hands of the rich and better born.”  Serving the public weal cannot be delegated to a clique whose performance is not subject to meaningful review by the masses.  In the United States there is a shadow government consisting primarily of the global financial corporations.  Through control of credit, political donations, and a corporate press, they dictate government policy and control public opinion.  A system is needed where the people will act to assure government will place the public weal first and only. 


Solution:  investigative bodies with wide ranging powers selected from the masses:   Setting up randomly selected panels of citizens. These panels would consist of those in the upper 30% on testing which measures their cognitive skills.  The panel would be similar to our current investigative federal grand juries ran by prosecutors, only these would be self-guided.  These panels would investigate the performance of government and businesses.  Each panel would be given specific limited investigative task, such as the performance of the state’s utility companies, federal energy policies, the performance of those who set up education policies, etc.  They would have the power to review records, interview people, hire experts, publish findings, propose legislation, fund research projects, and start the process for the removal of bureaucrats.  An effective review system is at the core of good governance. 


Problem III:  Need economic planning that serves the public weal:  Russian socialism failed because politicians ran the economy.  In theory it was to serve the masses, but it morphed into a tool of the government for the government.  By placing public service second, this permitted a bureaucratic quagmire to develop.  Capitalism fails because the corporate political voice dominates government, and thus government has permitted the drive for maximizing profits to cause great harm.  Capitalism has morphed into monopoly capitalism, which has morphed global monopoly capitalism, a force above nations and their citizens.  This process has resulted in a steadily worsening of the conditions of the masses both in developed nations and the poor nations (though corporate press and various supportive organizations such as the CIA, WTO, International Monetary Fund, World Bank tells us that globalization promotes prosperity for all). Corporations, especially in the financial sector, have become an end unto themselves; this needs to change.             


Solution to have a body of professors for economic planning.  They would be selected randomly from a pool of instructors at leading universities.  These professors would be charged with streamlining the economy by increasing economic transparency (efficiency) and coordinating production to meet demands.  Such a body of economic planners would eliminate waste[ii].  These planners would, like all other governing bodies, be subjected to meaningful review by a grand jury as describe in #II.  Basic structure of the corporation would become democratic with workers electing management, and the ultimate purpose of the corporation would not be serving the public weal.  Banks would become public banks controlled by those in its community, and ran for the benefit of the community.  Two groups, professors and a grand jury would have oversight. 


Problem IV:  Need to reduce the alienation of the workers and thereby create a greater sense of community:  Alienation occurs when the worker is removed from the product and the place of employment and becomes a voiceless cog in the system, which is amplified by a class society with a ruling elite.  Alienation was once widely discussed 60 years ago.  The worker under the capitalist system is a commodity that exists for to create profits.  At his job the decisions are made by supervisors and in the community by politicians.  His voice is a vote for one of the two parties which represent the power elite.  The masses input into the processes that effects their lives are minimal.  The local stores are out to sell, the media is selling, and the local government is run by politician who place business first.  This attitude of each person as a commodity permeates the American society from the top down.  The notion of brethren/brotherhood has been replaced by an ethic of grabbing a s much as possible. The feeling of family suffers in a nation built upon lassie-faire glorified competition for wealth.  There has been a steady drift from a feeling of unity, of brethren, of greater family under the corporatist state into a nation built on greed with top-down management in the workplace and in government; its byproduct is alienation.


Solution: to remake society into one of a greater family with far more public property, and where the community would make decisions about such property.  In the workplace, community ownership of the means of production, and to have the Workers elect their supervisors and top management.  In each neighborhood there would be more public facilities, with local residence working in them and electing their supervisors.  Local participation creates a sense of community.  “No one can doubt equality diminishes less the happiness of the rich than it adds to that of the poor.”—David Hume, Of Commerce, 1752).[iii]  To promote equality (part of social justice), property inheritance would be eliminated.  This change along with a true democracy eliminates class privilege and creates a need for all able-body people to contribute through labor.  Under this arrangement a 20 hour work week would suffice.  More leisure time allows more time for social interaction, thus creating a greater sense of community.  These types of changes reduce alienation. 


PROBLEM V: conflict between personal advantage and the public weal.   B.F. Skinner said that, “Original sin is the difference between your pleasure and mine.”  This is the sin of self-interest.  The problem is how to make self-interest entail promoting the public weal:  to dissuade people from seeking person gain at the expense of the public.  We have thus far dealt with the pubic-sphere (business and government) and made the public weal the measurement of performance.  The common vision of social justice currently is far from that of an enlightened vision of the public weal.  The previous solutions (1-IV) addressed this on the political-economic levels the promotion of the public weal.  The same issue exists on a personal level:  the building of public-spirited masses. 


Solution: Make the public weal the foundation of morality through wide-ranging social engineering. With public ownership of the media under the direction of university professor who are both educators and humanists, the influence of the media upon the minds would be used to inculcate a humane morality for an enlightened, educated society.  With a much different perspective of right behavior in place, this congeals with the moral philosophy of utilitarianism (an act is morally right if it produce for the society the greatest happiness). A pattern of peer reinforcements for the promotion of the public weal and peer disapprobation for acts which fall short of this standard would create, as the norm, good citizens acting to promote the brotherhood of man.  With a true democracy, a classless society, and the government acting like a good parent, the success in the U.S. would through example build a much different world, one where the corporatist state with its ethics of profits first would be replaced with a state that serves the public weal.


I have grown up during a period when educators had an ever increasing social conscience, and this was reflected in their course content, which held that a liberal education was needed for a real democracy.  This development has its roots in the Greek philosophers during the period from about 500 BC until 146 BC, and then a rebirth in the late Renaissance when again their philosophy was studied.  Out of this grew a concern for the well-being of the common people.  By the Enlightenment it had some influence upon a few governments.  It greatest proponent was Jeremy Bentham 1745 to 1832.  This movement for social justice reached its pinnacle in the U.S. during the Vietnam War.  I have spent 11 years in undergraduate and graduate studies during the period from 1962 to 1981.  I have worked for the graduate studies department of a Canadian university in 1968 through 1970.   I have seen the power of rational inquire not only to produce significant progress in scientific, technological and medicine, but also to create and disseminate a vision of social justice and serving the public weal.  Spreading from the universities and the labor movement, this vision of society took hold in the masses.  Though always a minority position it developed significant political influence.  The business community took noted this and acted to reverse this trend.  Through mainly political donations and their media they reestablished total control by wrecking the voice of unions and changing public opinion.  The final blow occurred in 1991, when pro-business forces selected Bill Clinton to run.  Unions are the main political voices for the common people.  The big corporations have always been the shadow government; only with the changes instituted during the Great Depression, especially laws protecting unions, have the common people had a sufficient voice to make a major difference.  Now history is repeating itself, and we have reverted to the laissez-faire capitalism of the 1920s. 

For more on economic reforms go to http://skeptically.org/ethicsutility/id26.html, the waste of the stock market at http://www.skeptically.org/ethicsutility/id18.html, the original “Eight Steps Towards Social Justice at http://www.skeptically.org/ethicsutility/id11.html, how government worked in the 50s www.skeptically.org/parwho/id13.html, and on the for profit drug industry http://www.skeptically.org/enlightenment/id20.html.  The WHO study on quality of health care http://healthfully.org/index/id1.html    

[i]   The contract foundation for government (an ideal given voice by Thomas Hobbes of England and our founding fathers) holds that the individual gives up certain rights for the benefits of living under a government whose duty is to protect life and property, promote social justice, and permit liberty of activities that do not violate the common good. 

[ii]   *On Waste and what’s wrong with mature capitalism:  While this topic is beyond the scope of the essay, a summation of the ways in which a system driven by profits functions counter to the [footnote ii continued]: public weal clarifies the need for change (for those with Panglossian faith).  The most basic change is to remove the conflict of interest created by a business community use of money to buy legislators, and use of their press to determine the outcomes of elections.  By far the biggest player is global financial institutions and their front organizations the IMF, World Bank & World Trade Organization.  Corporations seek to maximize profits, and this includes being the shadow government, driving down costs (especially labor) and eliminating the competition.  Globalization promotes these goals.   Piece by piece over the last 4 decades inconvenient law and regulation which hinder global profits have been removed. 

     The easiest way to fix this problem would start by silencing their political voice.  Limit all personal contributions to $100 (in the courts corporations are considered a person), and enforce that law.  This would need a constitutional amendment. Next reform the media so that its primary function is to promote liberal education and to build a true democracy.  To fix the economic ills we need high tariffs to protect jobs and reverse the downward spiral towards Mexican standards of pay and working conditions.  We need strong unions to give workers a voice.  We need to limit immigration and fine heavily employers who hire those here in violation of immigration laws.  In addition there are fundamental changes in finance, marketing, and manufacturing system.  The measure of performance should be transparency (efficiency) and not profits.  Transparency in economy entails price being as close as possible to essential costs.  The cost of a toaster and a car ought to be as close as possible the cost of production and transportations.  There are many things which drive up the cost of goods such as advertising, the lack of standard parts, the inefficient distribution of system, etc.  We need to maximize value, so that we know which AA battery is the best value.  Having product ratings on the package and the comparison on the internet would create competition to build value.  Our current system is a debt based expansion of currency done through the Federal Reserve and a very low reserve requirement.  (See The Money Masters a documentary on the history banking and the consequence of a debt based currency.)  The financial system in 1950 accounted for just over 5% of the GDP, enough to cover its service of lubing the wheels of commerce.  Now it accounts to over 40% of total corporate profits.  The financial sector’s gobbling up the wealth of our nation.  The waste now is over $1.5 trillion annually given by federal, local, and state governments of the taxes they collect.  And what business and citizens pay to banking is several fold that amount.  Do we need them to be the middle man skimming off of what we made as a facilitator of transactions?  Do we need them to control credit, and be too big to fail, and so powerful that they control the economy? A fundamental reworking of the financial system is needed.  The government envisioned above could efficiently run banking.  This would start with fiat money, money without debt.  What makes a bond or T-bill good would also make fiat money good.  Another change would be to have government ran no-fault insurance programs.  I had such auto insurance when I lived in Manitoba, and it cost me half as much as auto insurance in Pennsylvania.  Medicare consumes 3% for administrative costs, private health insurance 35% of every dollar taken in.  Ownership of property including business should by the community and those who work therein.  Democracy in the workplace entails workers selecting foremen and managers.  This would create a team attitude in the business with many ancillary benefits.  With public ownership we would eliminate the costs of to our society of a class of people whose income is the selling the product of labor, of resources of our lands, and the renting of buildings we built.  There is only so much material wealth and service to go around; according to the UN, the United States ranks 92nd among nation based on distribution of goods and service.  Another change for transparency is to have on all goods sold a comparative rating.  This would change the approach to the market place.  Manufactured goods would be designed to last longer and be easier to repair.  It would also eliminate the expense of advertising which drives up the item’s cost.  Currently on television the programs are interrupted an average of 17 minutes per hour for advertising and another 6 minutes for network information such as upcoming programs. This is as much a waste of times as sitting in your vehicle in a traffic jam for 23 minutes per hr.  Advertising has created and maintained the market for tobacco, ethanol beverages, carbonated corn syrup waters, and consumerism.  Food advertising is the main cause for the current obesity plague.  Corporate control of the medical trade exposes patients to the heartless, relentless push for more profits.  The US has the most expensive health care system, yet it was ranked 40 in overall performance in 1997 by the WHO, and it has only gotten worse since then.  Every waste is funded upon the backs of labor: THERE ARE NO FREE LUNCHES!  With transparency, there would be fewer jobs.  To offset this the work week would be shortened.  Through transparency and if every able-body person worked, under 2-days a week of work would be sufficient to maintain our current standard of living.  The economy needs to be streamlined, and directed towards promoting the pubic weal. We are enduring the effects of a corporatist state who has hijacked our government.  We need populist, peoples, democratic government committed to installing the reforms outline above.  

[iii] There ought to be a leveling of payment for work and end the inheritance of property.  The brotherhood of many is not built upon privilege,  Modest rewards are sufficient to assure superior performance.  The greatest scientists and social philosophers were not in it for the money. 

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A democracy exists whenever those who are free and poor are in sovereign control of the government; an oligarchy when the control lies in the hands of the rich and better born.”—Aristotle

These International bankers and Rockefeller-Standard Oil interests control the majority of newspapers and use the columns of these papers to club into submission or rive out of public office officials who refuse to do the bidding of the powerful corrupt cliques which compose the invisible government -- Theodore Roosevelt, New York Times, March 27, 1918

Teddy Roosevelt in his famous speech in 1910 Osawatomie, Kansas: "We must drive the special interests out of politics. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being. There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains."