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Posts Tagged ‘SOCIETY’

Transformational Ideas in the Era of Social Change and the Upcoming Presidential Election

Seeing Society through the Crystal-Ball of Ideas

 

Introduction

I’m feeling a little bit overwhelmed these days during this political season. This is because there are so many candidates running for the Office of the President of the United States. At last count there were potentially 24 democratic candidates (some declared and some not), five or more independents, and potentially several Republicans ready to challenge Donald Trump in 2020.

So how does one decide who to vote for in the next election when there are so many candidates? What criteria does one use to make sound judgments? It is a daunting task, especially if one wants to do diligence and cares about our democracy. So, what do you do?

Many factors may guide you (e.g., party affiliation, values, facts on issues, beliefs, prejudice, social pressure, past history of voting or lack thereof, what your significant other(s) may think, etc.). However, voting is, for the most part, a solitary decision. So once you’re in that polling booth or filling out a form at home, the question still remains—what do you do?

In order to answer this question one needs to take a long term and wide view at politicians and their promises in addition to culture, society and the individual. Each individual operates in his/her own realm of individuality and consciousness. That realm is mostly in the present, the here and now, where immediate needs play our center stage of concern. We all have needs every moment of every day. But voting should be an activity that transcends the present. One needs to look beyond his/her immediate environment, and think about the future needs of others, not just oneself.

Sociology I-A

While our immediate daily needs are important to meet, the act of Voting is more than this, or should be. Voting is a statement of desired direction, a kind of non-descript message to a culture and society bigger than ourselves. We are all trying to say with our vote, “You better wake up and pay attention.” Well, you say wake up and pay attention, but what you really mean is—You want change, however ill-defined and nebulous at that moment it might be.

If you’re conservative you’re probably thinking to yourself—change for what? The conservative mindset is very troubled these days. Conservatives prefer no change to society most of the time, despite a long history of change they have also benefitted from. Nevertheless, they are all fearful of a changing world and landscape they do not understand or control anymore. They dwell psychologically in a constant state of perpetual uncertainty and many have secretly underlying doubts and misapprehensions about their own beliefs.

Most conservatives are white. Most sociologists suspect that the underlying concern of not wanting things to change is the irrational fear of “White Fright-White Flight.” While there are interesting sociological questions ahead to be answered, like will America become more harmonious, less violent and less group oriented, once there is real equality when only minorities (including a white minority) will make up America? That discussion is for a latter Blog. While such a question is titillating to the academic community, there is still an irrational fear on the part of conservatives that the sky is falling all around them. And that intense fear translates into blaming all others for their own short-comings in life.

The driving force in culture (defined as our learned behavior patterns) and society is for change, or a desire for no change. It is predicated on values and value judgments. Change does not create value judgment per se, only people do. Some may argue that value judgments are a product of early childhood experiences in growing up in small social unit or group like the family. And it is true that by age 25 most of our personal beliefs and values are firmly lodged in “social concrete.” But as people become adults, larger social forces begin to enter their lives and influence them. I’m being polite. Let’s call it what it is—Social Control.

What is Change Anyway?

Observing change is simply a perception of difference in our physical and mental environment. It is a catchword used to describe movement in time. Either something occurs or it doesn’t. That is the nexus of change that connects the past to the present and the present to the future.

But when we talk about social change, and its importance, we’re really talking about value judgments and ideology directed by something very specific. Society doesn’t always change because one holds value judgments; society changes because of something very specific. Change for change sake is unto itself—meaningless.

What are those specifics? They are ideas folks. Ideas move society. Ideas move individuals. Ideas, and their formulation, are the real basis for social change in society. Value judgments and ideology may still play a role in evaluating what is a “good” idea from a “bad” idea. But ideas turned into actions are what ultimately will lead to social change.

     So, if good ideas are the real pathway to social change, why then aren’t there more of them? I don’t know. My theory is that it takes real effort to come up with good ideas. Most people would prefer to be lazy and rest, not on their laurels per se, but rather depend on their value judgments alone.

     However, sometimes politicians are capable of creating and coming up with good ideas. Ahead you’ll hear about one candidate for the highest office who has the best most transformational ideas at this point in time, and has done his/her homework.

     The best political presentations, by the way, are well crafted when they collectively incorporate transformational ideas, values, and facts and describe issues with the precision of a jeweler’s eye. That kind of political presentation gives a more complete and total picture from which to make choices or judgments.

Read on.

It is ideas that propel what we call change. But ideas are not all alike in nature. Some ideas are rather ordinary, while other ideas can be transformational.

Transformational Ideas

When I talk about ideas in the context above, I’m not referring to everyday or ordinary ideas that lead to human decisions of little relevance, such as making decisions as to what car to buy or what neighborhood to buy a home in.

Transformational ideas by comparison to ordinary ones, can and do affect the lives of large numbers of people, or even an entire nation. They have a much bigger impact on society; they generate real currency value in any society.

Transformational ideas are what you need to look for in a candidate for public office, especially the Office of President of the United States.

Warning: If a candidate talks about issues, that is fine. But if their stock answer is—we need to change—but solutions are absent in the presentation, you might take that as a sign that the candidate for office really has not thought about the issue(s) very deeply.

We all know talk is cheap, but actionable ideas require planning and insight. Said again, transformational ideas have great value when they are highly specific, not obtuse statements lacking specificity or time frames. Otherwise, you as a voter are passing off “bullshit” for insight. Don’t be misled by the politics of obfuscation in political speeches whenever, wherever, and by whom it comes from. Listen carefully to what is being said. I know this requires effort on your part, but who you vote for really matters.

Another way politicians obfuscate their presentation is they constantly dwell on “values rather than facts.” Value statements are fine because values reinforce what they believe you care about. Politicians on the left and the right do this all the time. They know voters are influenced more by their values than by facts alone. Just be careful not to get caught up in the emotion candidates like to drum up.

People can get quite emotional about their values. We’ve seen this idea of values and emotions when they merge into a lethal combination that leads to hatred expressed, and violence carried out, at political rallies. You may agree or disagree with their statements, but you are the one who ultimately must decide who to vote for.

I’m not so naïve as to think that the masses of voters in our country will be astute enough to decipher “bullshit” from well-thought-out analytical assessments of political candidates. If this were not the case, then the country might not have elected a mentally and socially challenged degenerate president in 2016.

A lot of time remains before November 2020. Nevertheless, many democratic candidates have announced their candidacies. I’ve made it my personal duty to listen intently to first campaign speeches because they tend to set the tone for what is important to each candidate. Who I will actually vote for in 2020 will have to wait until I have a clear idea of the transformational ideas, if any, from all the candidates regardless of party.

Nevertheless, right now my analysis has led me back to whom I supported during the 2016 campaign season. I’ll keep this a secret for now and let you guess. This candidate, in my opinion, already has a plethora of transformational ideas. These ideas I like.

I want to make two things perfectly clear at the onset. I like, with one exception, all the democratic candidates this year running for the Office of the President of the United States. I say Kudos to Corry Booker, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. They are all worthy candidates and decent human beings. There are other democratic candidates running for president and may be just as worthy. We as citizens just need to get to know them a little better.

The second point I want to make is this: It is a myth that conservatives don’t care for social change. They do and especially when it benefits them personally. Does anyone really think conservatives in Congress today would sponsor a bill to overturn the 1935 Social Security Act? I think not! They pay into the social security system just like everyone else. Social security was a profound social change to this country (transformational) and it is now 84 years old.

Now that conservatives have daughters playing organized sports in grammar school, high school and college, do you really think they want to go backwards in time when all the money went to just male sports teams? I think not.

Virtually every good thing that has ever been passed into law since our nation’s inception has also benefitted conservatives as much as the rest of society. They basically enjoy things now they themselves may have originally opposed. That makes them the most disingenuous hypocritical mental slackers ever to inhabit our great nation. Someday, I’ll tell you what I really think of them!

As I have now redundantly said, conservatives embrace change in their own lives when it benefits them. But their eternal characteristic is just the fact that they have the nasty propensity to deny, unwittingly or otherwise, others their rights to the good life. Just like everyone else Conservatives are the type of people who always book a flight on a plane whose destination is the future. Problem is—once onboard that flight, they just don’t seem to want anyone else sitting next to them.

A Candidate with Transformational ideas

This shouldn’t be a difficult test for you to identify the candidate I am supporting at the moment. This particular candidate announced his/her candidacy within the last two months. In his/her opening speech issues, facts, reinforcing values and transformational ideas were all presented. This candidate is the complete package for integrity, likeability, insight and comprehensive vision and understanding.

The clock is ticking now. Let’s see how long it takes you to figure who I am talking about. The following is a listing of the transformational ideas, issue statements and value statements made by this candidate.

“When we are in the White House, we will attack the problem of urban gentrification and build the affordable housing our nation desperately needs.”

“We are not going to cut Social Security benefits. We are going to expand them.”

“Yes. We will pass a Medicare for all single-payer program.”

“We intend to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy and, in the process, create millions of good paying jobs.”

“Today we say to the American people that we will rebuild our crumbling infrastructure: our roads, our bridges, our rail system and subways, our water systems and wastewater plants and our airports-and when we do that we create up to 13 million good paying jobs.”

“Today we say to the parents in this country that you and your kids deserve quality, affordable childcare. The children are our future; they deserve the best possible head start in life with a high quality, universal pre-K program.”

“Good jobs require a good education. That is why we are going to make public colleges and universities tuition free, and substantially lower the outrageous student debt that currently exists.”

“Today, we say to our senior citizens, that we understand you cannot live in dignity when you are trying to survive on $13,000 or $14,000 a year in Social Security Benefits. My Republican colleagues want to cut Social Security Benefits but we have some bad news for them. We’re not going to cut Social Security benefits. We are going to expand them.

“We are going to provide legal status to the 1.8 million young people eligible for the DACA program, and develop a humane border policy for those who seek asylum. No more snatching babies from the arms of their mothers.”

“We will move aggressively to end the epidemic of gun violence in this country and pass the common sense gun safety legislation that the overwhelming majority of Americans want.”

Final Observations

Bernie Sanders launched his initial speech in Brooklyn New York on March 2, 2019 (if you haven’t figured out whom I was referring to by now).

Bernie Sanders has lots of other ideas that are transformational. But I wanted to convey to you most of the really good ideas. The interesting thing about a lot of politicians on both sides of the aisle is that few ever tell us how they are going to pay for their intended legislation. Bernie however, does tell us how he is going to pay for his transformational ideas. He’ll tax the very rich and the super-rich or the top 1% of Americans who own 50% of the wealth in this country.

As Bernie said on March 2, 2019:

“no, we will no longer stand idly by and allow 3 people in this country to own more wealth than the bottom half of America while, at the same time, over 20 percent of our children live in poverty, veterans sleep out on the streets and seniors cannot afford their prescription drugs. We will no longer accept 46 percent of al new income going to the top 1 %, while millions of Americans are forced to work 2 or 3 jobs just to survive and over half of our people live paycheck to paycheck frightened to death about what happens to them financially if their car breaks down or their child becomes sick. Today, we fight for a political revolution.”

Other candidates on the democratic side have ideas as well. Even a few Republicans have a few good ideas. But unfortunately, Republicans in a political environment doesn’t lend itself to getting things done. Just like the Freedom Caucus among the larger body of Republicans in Congress they get nothing done and have certainly earned the reputation as the party of “NO.”

Trust me! When Bernie’s transformational ideas eventually come to fruition, Republicans will be first in line (hat in hand) with glassy eyes, like an exuberant panting little puppy (and not so cute), begging for their fair share of society’s benefits.

One other issue does deserve some discussion, but will have to wait for a future Blog. Fear mongering is the stock and trade of the Republican Party these days. Now they want you to tremble in your shoes because Bernie Sanders is a Democratic Socialist. Somehow that label foretells doom and gloom. This is, of course, total nonsense. Democratic Socialism is a good thing not a bad thing.

In a future Blog I will explore this false narrative promoted by the Republican Party in more detail. I will discuss Socialism and Democratic Socialism and how they differ. I will also explore both the strengths and weaknesses of Capitalism and suggest to you how merging two different underlying philosophies and economic systems just might produce the best of all worlds. There are no perfect economic systems in the world. Who knows perhaps merging just might be a Transformational Idea people in society can get behind and really embrace?

 

Just like Paul Harvey would end his famous newscasts (1952-2008) I say to you—“Now you know the rest of the story and Good Day!”

 

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 INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this and the next Blog is to describe an economic portrait of the Middle-Class in America, and the growing middle-class worldwide. Most of the emphasis will be on the middle-class right here in America. Part I defines the middle-class, and Part II will describe the middle-class in relation to economics and economic principles.

If there is a theme running through both Part I and Part II it is that the middle-class, particularly in America, is very privileged and economically very well off. A secondary, but no less important theme, is that the middle class with its Robin Hood Politics, is totally unjustified in discriminating against others from other social classes. After all, rich people, poor people, and middle class people all want the same things in life. They all have their personal dreams and desires.

Related to this topic is an interesting observation, that is, whether we talk about “crime in the streets” (A predominately poor and working class phenomena), or “crime in the suites” (a predominately upper-class phenomena) the middle-class have their own form of crime (subtle perhaps, but crime nonetheless). That crime is differential and progressive taxation, i.e., Robin Hood Politics. Property crimes have as their purpose the taking of things that don’t belong to someone. Life is about the choices we all make. Sometimes people who make poor choices early in life still nevertheless want others to pay for their mistakes. Today, there is a new twist to this phenomena.  Rather than politicians following good, solid economic principles in a free market economy, they largely abandon or ignore them in deference to the whims of middle-class voters and political party ideology.

Therefore, it is important to explore what economics is all about and how it ties into the observation that social distribution of wealth is patently unfair to everyone who believes it is the individual who is responsible for his own life, and all the decisions one makes. The notion of re-distributing the wealth through differential taxation of people in higher income groups is a short-term ineffective fix that won’t alter the fact that lower income and middle-class people cannot acquire the things they want unless by stealing from others through the tyranny of the majority. How can they best get the things they want? Well, economic prosperity should be the goal of our society. We shouldn’t try to eat the rich since they, particularly among entrepreneurs, make it possible to increase more prosperity, including increased prosperity of the middle-class. The best way for society to work toward abundance and greater prosperity for everyone—is to realize that it is wealth creation and prosperity in a free market economy that really matters and, by the way, the only thing that matters if people want to get the scarce resources they don’t currently possess. For the middle-class who engages in “Robin Hood Politics,” all that does ultimately, is to shoot themselves in the foot. Robin Hood Politics is a clumsy and incompetent way to achieve the goal of middle-class economic prosperity.

THE RELATIONSHIP OF CHARITY TO ECONOMIC PROSPERITY

Where do you think all the vast amount of money for charity and helping the less fortunate comes from in this society? Who do you think gives more money to charities in the first place—Democrats or Republicans?

America is unparalleled in economic prosperity and the 20th century proved that. It is economic prosperity that makes charitable contributions possible at all. We even try to help others worldwide with support such as in places like Haiti, or Chile. It is our economic prosperity that makes all of that possible. Check out the facts. Republicans give more money to charity in the United States than do Democrats. But, regardless of who gives more, the underlying ability to give at all is based on economic prosperity. We all live in a very rich nation as nations go.  But, before we get ahead of ourselves lets look at the facts. Who is the middle-class? How are they defined? What is the economic reality we all live under and why are economic principles so important to understand? Society needs to comprehend and understand economics.

Burying one’s head in the sand isn’t going to help anyone. It is crystal clear that Robin Hood Politics and government tinkering with the economy is at best counterproductive, and at worse, an affront to the values of individualism, self-reliance, hard work, determination, rational and intelligent thinking, and, above all, taking responsibility for one’s own life.

 CONNECTIONS

      Back in August, 2009 I wrote an article on the dynamics of class warfare from a political independent’s point of view. I considered it then, as I do now, class warfare to be the last bastion of discrimination in America. Our tax laws reflect that, and our politics reflect the underlying discriminatory beliefs about people with differing amounts of income and wealth. I’ve also previously written in this Blog about upper class greed in an article titled, “Greed is Their Creed,” where I discussed the Barney Madoffs of the world, and other white-collar offenders at the top of the social ladder.

Because the middle class in America dominate as a majority, one of the often unexpressed, yet socially blatant attitudes of this group is also, unfortunately—greed, and a willingness to engage in “Robin Hood Politics” by discriminating against people from other social classes or social conditions.

For example, middle class people will get angry about the demographics of changing neighborhoods, or halfway houses for drug offenders that are placed in their neighborhoods. Yet they barely raise an eyebrow when some politician struts populism to the extent and willingness to disproportionately tax the rich (everybody who makes over $250,000) or even just higher income upper middle class individuals. Most politicians (almost universally democrats but a minority of republicans) who create our laws, buy into this discriminatory ethos from the middle class. Why? The reason is that the middle class is their base for currying favor among society’s largest group of voters. All that matters to politicians is their getting elected or re-elected.

The thrust of my article last August looked at data and the dynamics of social class from primarily a sociological and psychological type of logical analysis. This article will be to support my earlier article. But, emphasis will be instead on key economic principles, economic insights, and economic data on income distribution.

Economics is sometimes called the ‘dismal social science’ because its laws and principles give special treatment or quarry to no one. It doesn’t take sides; it simply tries to explain economic principles with economic data. Thus, it is an objective way to view the world.

 LET’S DEFINE THE MIDDLE -CLASS

The American middle class is an ambiguously defined social class in the United States.  While the concept remains largely ambiguous in popular opinion and common language use,  contemporary sociologists have put forward several, more or less congruent, theories on the American middle class. Depending on class model used, the middle class may constitute anywhere from 25% to 66% of households.

One of first major studies of White Collar: The American Middle Classes, was made by sociologist C. Wright Mills in 1951. Later sociologists such as Dennis Gilbert of Hamilton College commonly divided the middle class into two sub-groups. Constituting roughly 15% to 20% of households is the upper or professional middle class consisting of highly educated, salaried professionals and managers.

Constituting roughly one third (33%) of households is the lower middle class consisting mostly of semi-professionals, skilled craftsmen and lower level management.  Middle class persons commonly have a comfortable standard of living, significant economic security, considerable work autonomy and rely on their expertise to sustain themselves.

Everyone wants to believe they are middle class…But this eagerness…has led the definition to be stretched like a bungee cord and used to defend/attack/describe everything. The Drum Major Institute places the range for middle class at individuals making between $25,000 and $100,000 a year. Ah yes, there’s a group of people bound to run into each other while house-hunting.—Dante Chinni

Members of the middle class belong to diverse groups which overlap with each other. Overall, middle class persons, especially upper middle class individuals, are characterized by conceptualizing, creating and consulting. Thus, college education is one of the main indicators of middle class status.

Largely attributed to the nature of middle class occupations, middle class values tend to emphasize independence, adherence to intrinsic standards, valuing innovation and respecting non-conformity.  Politically more active than other demographics, college educated middle class professionals are split.  Income varies considerably from near the national median to well in excess of $100,000.

Household income figures, however, do not always reflect class status and standard of living, as they are largely influenced by the number of income earners and fail to recognize household size. It is therefore possible for a large, dual-earner, lower middle class household to out-earn a small, one-earner, upper middle class household.  The middle classes are very influential, as they encompass the majority of voters, writers, teachers, journalists, and editors. Most societal trends in the US originate within the middle classes.

WORLDWIDE CHANGES IN THE MIDDLE CLASS

In February 2009, the Economist magazine announced that over half the world’s population now belongs to the middle class, as a result of rapid growth in emerging countries. It characterized the middle class as having a reasonable amount of discretionary income, so that they do not live from hand to mouth as the poor do, and defined it as beginning at the point where people have roughly a third of their income left for discretionary spending after paying for basic food and shelter. This allows people to buy consumer goods, improve their health care, and provide for their children’s education. Most of the emerging middle class consists of people who are middle-class by the standards of the developing world but not the rich one, since their money incomes do not match developed country levels, but the percentage of it which is discretionary does. By this definition, the number of middle class people in Asia exceeded that in the West sometime around 2007 or 2008.

The Economist article pointed out that in many emerging countries the middle class has not grown incrementally, but explosively. The rapid growth results from the fact that the majority of the people fall into the middle of a right-skewed bell-shaped curve, and when the peak of the population curve crosses the threshold into the middle class, the number of people in the middle class grows enormously.

In addition, when the curve crosses the threshold, economic forces cause the bulge to become taller as incomes at that level grow faster than incomes in other ranges. The point at which the poor start entering the middle class by the millions is the time when poor countries get the maximum benefit from cheap labour through international trade, before they price themselves out of world markets for cheap goods. It is also a period of rapid urbanization, when subsistence farmers abandon marginal farms to work in factories, resulting in a several-fold increase in their economic productivity before their wages catch up to international levels. That stage was reached in China some time between 1990 and 2005, when the middle class grew from 15% to 62% of the population, and is just being reached in India now.

The Economist predicted that surge across the poverty line should continue for a couple of decades and the global middle class will grow enormously between now and 2030.

A DYNAMIC CAUSAL THEORY OF MIDDLE CLASS AMERICA

In 1950 an important sociology book came out called—The Lonely Crowd. In it was a significant sociological analysis written by David Riesman, Nathan Glazer, and Reuel Denney. It is considered — along with White Collar: The American Middle Classes, written by Riesman’s friend and colleague C. Wright Mills — to be a landmark study of American character.

Riesman, et al. identified and analyzed three main cultural types: tradition-directed, inner-directed, and outer-directed. They traceD the evolution of society from a tradition-directed culture — one that moved in a direction defined by preceding generations. Tradition-directed social types obeyed rules established a long time in the past, and rarely succeeded in modern society, with its dynamic changes.

This earliest social type was succeeded by people who were inner-directed. They discovered the potential within themselves to live and act not according to established norms, but based on what they discovered using their own inner gyroscope. Inner-directed people live as adults what they learned in childhood, and tend to be confident, sometimes rigid.

After the Industrial Revolution in America had succeeded in developing a middle-class state, institutions that had flourished within the tradition-directed and the inner-directed social framework became secondary to daily life. Instead of living according to traditions, or conforming to the values of organized religion, the family, or societal codes, the new middle class gradually adopted a malleability in the way people lived with each other. The increasing ability to consume goods and afford material abundance was accompanied by a shift away from tradition or inner-directedness. How to define one’s self became a function of the way others lived.

Gradually an outer-direction took hold, that is, the social forces of how others were living -what they consumed, what they did with their time, what their views were toward politics, work, play, and so on. Riesman and his researchers found that other-directed people were flexible and willing to accommodate others to gain approval. Because large organizations preferred this type of personality, it became indispensable to the institutions that thrived with the growth of industry in America.

As Riesman wrote, “The other-directed person wants to be loved rather than esteemed”, not necessarily to control others but to relate to them. Those who are other-directed need assurance that they are emotionally in tune with others.

By the 1940s, the other-directed character was beginning to dominate society. Today the triumph of this type of social personality is complete. If one applies the outer-direction criteria to everyday actors as portrayed in modern culture, for example, Death of a Salesman or How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, or the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, the other-directed person is easy to identify.

This defined the middle class that no longer had the material need to cling to past life standards to form a cohesive society. But since the other-directed could only identify themselves through references to others in their communities (and what they earned, owned, consumed, believed in) they inherently were restricted in their ability to know themselves.

Riesman’s book argues that although other-directed individuals are crucial for the smooth functioning of the modern organization, the value of autonomy is compromised. The Lonely Crowd also argues that society dominated by the other-directed faces profound deficiencies in leadership, individual self-knowledge, and human potential.

Riesman and his co-authors (Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denney) did not come up with the title; the publisher did.

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