In my family, both of my parents are dying and my
grandchildren are about to inherit the earth. Dad spent many years on an assembly
line making cars. I worked at refineries making gasoline. He enjoyed traveling
and drove to California 23 times, just for starters. I live in a very small
rural town and don’t think twice about driving 60 miles round trip just for a
special supper out. Have we made it more unlikely that our children’s children
will have a world worth inheriting?
Thinking about the many issues of ecology and economics
makes my head want to explode. Nevertheless, somehow, it still seems important
enough to try to wrap my mind around it. If not for me, than for the ones I
love. It turns out that smart people of good will are actually starting to get
a handle on all of this. Some scientists are focusing on barely-imaginable
details. Other researchers are backing off far enough to get an overall picture
of the entire forest of environmental and social issues.
Surely, it is obvious that our finite world cannot sustain
infinite growth. We must discover, meet and deal with limits to growth. Yet, we
continue to expect that every nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) must always
continue to grow to provide improving standards of living for a growing percent
of our populations. Something has to give.
Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray for forgiveness as
they forgave others. Various translators have given this injunction as
forgiveness of “trespasses,” “sins,” or “debts.” While we can speculate
endlessly about how such Christian forgiveness should work out in practice, the
sense of the idea reflects a certain recurring traditional social contract.
When we owe something, we should attend to repaying it. Further, it is wrong to
expect leniency if we ourselves are impatient and demanding. However,
individuals should not be reduced to intractable permanent poverty.
Many cultures institutionalize forgiveness of both moral and
economic debts. For instance, the Law of Moses to the Jews directed that there
be a periodic “Jubilee” year in which certain debts were to be forgiven. This has been described was “…a self-regulating system that
deleveraged itself before credit bubbles grew out of control…” Also, the
Koran holds a similar instruction that “… if
(the debtor) is in [serious straits], then let there be postponement until (he
is in) ease … and that you remit it as
alms is better for you…” For what it’s worth, the Jubilee law even prescribed
that farm land be given a rest every seven years so that it had a chance to
recover and restore productivity.
Many people were aware of the “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS)
protests at their peak, but now think that the movement has disappeared.
Actually, it only got quieter while it organized a variety of initiatives. OWS
volunteers were some of the most active responders in the aftermath of
One of the many OWS projects is “Rolling Jubilee,” which
uses donated funds to buy-up private debt (such as college loans) for pennies
on the dollar – like collection agencies do. But, instead of hounding the
debtor, it forgives the debt. In just their first month, they raised $474,723
to abolish $9,499,377 as an act of “mutual support and good will in pursuit of
a new world based on common good, not Wall Street profits.”
Today, many people find themselves in increasingly difficult
and overwhelming circumstances. Without adequate health insurance, serious
illnesses in families account for 60% of personal bankruptcies. Situations such
as ballooning mortgages, being laid off, or college loans without having a
living-wage job, can be devastating as well. We don’t have to overspend to land
in this kind of debt. The working poor and middle class have faced decades of
degenerating economic headwinds (including fewer and poorer jobs) while bankers
and corporations win increasing legislative favors and record profits.
OWS is not the only group that views modern investment banks
and nonbank financial companies as increasingly predatory – using deceptive and
abusive practices. That is why the Obama administration formed the Consumer
Financial Protection Bureau and nominated Elizabeth Warren to be its head. The
CFPB began overseeing debt collection agencies (including $850 billion in
student loans) at the start of 2013.
Frankly, our national economy is currently “awash in
unpayable debt.” Financial institutions are already sometimes obliged to “take
a haircut” by canceling a portion of each other’s debt. International banks
have allowed entire countries to recover their economies through debt
forgiveness. We will be seeing a growing national conversation develop about
the possible benefits of consumer debt relief.
Whatever happened to all the travel agents, filling station
attendants, and encyclopedia salesmen? It turns out they were middlemen – intermediaries
between you and what you wanted. Therefore, you can say that, when we found
ways to do their jobs more directly, they were “disintermediated.”
These days, it is ever-more-common to “cut out the
middleman.” You book your own travel, pump your own gas, and easily search for
information about any subject that interests you by using Internet search
engines. The Encyclopedia Britannica has stopped printing paper volumes.
Voluntary curators and editors contribute articles to Wikipedia, a free on-line
encyclopedia with an increasingly solid reputation. Tesla Motors is working
toward their vision of bypassing dealerships to sell electric automobiles
directly to the public.
Whatever happened to all the elevator operators, telephone
switchboard operators, cabbage pickers and tollbooth collectors? These and many
thousands of other jobs have been eliminated by automation technology. On the bright
side, we can now directly dial almost any phone in the world and not have to
worry about watching our seconds on long distance calls. But, these are jobs,
for you and your neighbors, that will never come back.
Our losing so many jobs to machines is not the end of the
world or the end of work, but it is traumatic. The changing nature of work (and
availability of jobs) will create some economic challenges. You see senior
citizens sacking groceries when they would rather be holding their grandbabies
or nursing their bunions. You see college graduates assembling grease-burgers
(hold the ketchup) when they would rather be building their families and paying
off their student loans.
We’ve gone through this before. Whatever happened to
tanners, weavers, cobblers, and blacksmiths? Those were the days of craftsmen,
apprentices, and hand-carved ornamentation on furniture. You could tell who had
made a piece by the personal touches in its design. You took care of what you
owned because you knew that years of experience, hours of labor and, sometimes,
sweat and blood went into its production.
It may surprise you to discover that the National Rifle
Association has recently strayed quite far from its traditional moderate views
to embrace much more radical policies. For instance, the position of the NRA on
carrying guns in public has changed over time.
Has the leadership of the NRA embraced the developing
maturation of American social conscience, or have they been lured to pander to
the interests of weapon manufacturers? I usually try to resist cut-and-paste
columns, but I want to offer some cherry-picked quotations drawn from “academic
histories of the NRA” for your consideration.
“I have never believed in the general practice of carrying
weapons. I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it
should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” - NRA President Karl T.
Frederick, praising state gun control laws when he testified in Congress before
the 1938 federal gun control law passed.
Conservatives are fond of identifying “enemies” and using
strong negative words and images to describe them. I wrote about this in the
essay Conservatives Depending on Emotional Words to Persuade where
excerpts of a GOP memo from Newt Gingrich suggest words to describe “our
opponents” including: failure, pathetic, lie, liberal, betray, hypocrisy,
Psychologists have already discovered that emotions affect
higher brain functions including attention, memory, vision and motor control.
Now, researchers are discovering that negative language inhibits the lower
level retrieval of knowledge and subconscious information processing. A Bangor
University study initially expected that negative emotional words would be
arousing and stimulate reasoning capacity. Instead, they found that negative
words suppressed certain cognitive responses.
I suggest that combining these two observations may show
that repeatedly describing liberals [or another race, or immigrants, or
non-believers] in negative terms may reduce the audiences’ ability to reason
critically about the information they are receiving.
In the United States, there are two major political parties
that spring from two very different general inclinations. Both of these
dispositions offer some benefits. They serve important and legitimate purposes
for individuals and the American citizenry as a whole. However, these impulses
work best in balance.
That is also to say that both conservatives and liberals
(at their radical extremes) are damaging. This country works best when all sides
work to find a middle way – a balanced common ground that produces the greatest
possible common good while still allowing the greatest possible individual
The terms liberty
and freedom should not be misapplied.
The privilege of personal choice cannot be separated from the obligation to
public responsibility. Personal beliefs cannot be forced upon unwilling others.
Internal thoughts and values are private. External acts are subject to
limitations within a community.We defend personal liberties and freedoms up to
the point that they tread on the personal liberties and freedoms of others. In
this way, we create communities of common good and protect justice for all.