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Some musings

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 28, 2010 9:29 pm    Post subject: Some musings Reply with quote

Greed and selfishness concentrates power, money, etc., while generosity distributes it. In the absence of counter trends, this tends to make the greedy more powerful than the generous, leading to a warped society. Through history, revolts and revolutions have often been the only way to correct such warping and produce more equalitarian societies.
This article gives an example of how a few very rich Americans pushing a right-wing agenda have warped our whole society:
Many people accept sound bites or slogans as truth, especially if they hear them repeated a lot, so years of propaganda have led many Americans to accept as true assumptions that are in fact bad for the majority of people. Demonizing unions, which work for the benefit of large numbers of people, is one example. Constant smearing of "big" government is another example.
A recent poll about American attitudes toward government (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/09/AR2010100903308.html) showed that many people have bought the small government line, yet they still approve of many government services and programs, apparently without noticing the cognitive dissonance.
The original Boston Tea Party just before the American Revolutionary War was part of a protest against taxation without representation. Like the original situation where American colonists were saying the English Parliament couldn't tax them, many modern people's dissatisfaction has been channeled against Washington DC. The problem now is that the Representatives and Senators, who are supposed to represent the people, rarely do so. Far too few people in Congress are true public servants acting for the good of the whole country. Far too many people in Congress are politicians, serving their own personal fortunes and the businesses, campaign contributors & lobbyists who pay to keep them in power. As a result, we get tax codes and many other laws written to favor businesses and rich people at the expense of the population in general.
The modern Tea Party is a demonstration of (deliberately) misdirected anger. Until our political system is fixed to remove the influence of money on politics, anyone elected will just become part of the same dysfunctional system. A few newly elected people might turn out to be true public servants, but the majority will turn out to be politicians. Possible solutions include public financing of all elections, real campaign finance reforms, and strict control (or elimination) of lobbying--all of which the entrenched beneficiaries of the current system have blocked for years.
A recent news item mentioned that a Nobel-Prize-winning nominee has been blocked in the Senate for months. The blocking of appointments is a symptom of the excess of politicians over public servants in Congress.

Some terms: "ethos" refers to the spirit or beliefs and aspirations of a culture or community, "moral" refers to principles of right & wrong or good & bad, "ethic" refers to a set of moral principles, "ethics" refers to moral principles that govern a person's or group's behavior, and "ethical" means morally correct.
What one considers to be good for people or countries depends on one's ethics. Many people's systems of ethics come from their religions, which needn't but can produce some dangerously extreme views. Utilitarianism is a non-religious basis for ethics that many people can be reasonably comfortable with. Grossly simplified, actions producing the greatest good for the greatest number are the most ethical. This accords well with many people's inherent senses of fair play, and with equalitarian political and social systems.
I recently saw this quote on a site I visit: "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." - Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd US President (1882-1945).
Definitions of good behavior are extremely dependent on culture. As an example, consider a gratuity (tip) vs. baksheesh. Baksheesh can refer to charity or tipping or bribery, but in America it is almost always assumed to mean bribery and treated as a symptom of corruption. In contrast, Americans are expected to add a tip or gratuity for restaurant and taxi and some other services. This is never assumed to be a bribe, though some customers will leave a low tip to protest bad service received. In further contrast, many other cultures include a service charge in a restaurant bill and don't expect any additional tip (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tip_(gratuity) for a list of several national practices). In some cultures, baksheesh is a normal and expected part of doing business, while in America it is illegal to tip or give gifts to most government officials. Unfortunately, politicians and lobbyists that get caught in bribery scandals are painfully common.
The ideal of government is to promote the public good. The ideal of capitalist business is to promote owner profit. These values are part of American culture. If these ideals were adhered to, ANY public service should be cheaper and better when performed by a government than when performed by a private business because business is supposed to push for more profit and government isn't. Unfortunately, real life isn't very close to ideal. Medical benefits for members of Congress are much better than anything available to the general public, retirement benefits of many public workers outstrip many in the private sector, some officials award themselves outrageous pay [e.g., the recent scandal in Bell, CA], etc., increasing government expenses.
Current compensation (pay) practices are an example of our culture gone astray. Privately owned companies let the owners keep as much profit as they can, but in publicly owned companies the shareholders are the owners. Executives are supposed to work for the profit of shareholders, yet most work for their own profit, often with disastrous consequences for the shareholders. Adhering to the capitalist ideal would maximize shareholder profit by holding down all salaries (including those of executives), yet many public companies are pushing general worker salaries down below living wages while giving obscene bonuses to executives.
A recent news item mentioned that firemen allowed a home to burn down because a fee had not been paid. This is an example of what the small government and privatization model can (and will) lead to.

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 28, 2010 9:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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I have read F&SF for years, and I can recall some stories that explore political or economic issues. Of course, since they are fiction, there is no guarantee that the ideas would work in reality, but they can give readers food for thought.
L. Neil Smith has a lot of books set in an alternate history with a Libertarian version of America. I tend to view the assumptions and glossed-over problems rather skeptically, but they can be enjoyed by those so inclined.
An Enemy of the State by F. Paul Wilson, about the founding of the LaNague Federation, spends quite a bit of time on economics, including excerpts from the "Robin Hood Reader".
Subspace Explorers by E. E. "Doc" Smith includes a rule for good business behavior called the Principle of Enlightened Self-Interest (described in chapter XIII as the maximum of Capital's profit, Labor's income, and public benefit).
The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner has a vote at the end on a system to base taxes on three measurements of work: special training or uncommon talent, drawbacks of working conditions, and social indispensability. Parasitic occupations such as advertising will be much more heavily taxed than occupations like medicine or firefighting or police that benefit society. I would certainly vote for such a change.

Many laws, especially our current tax structure (exemptions, exceptions, special tax breaks, etc.), are written to benefit businesses and rich people more than the majority of our population. People & businesses spend on political campaigns & lobbying because they get tangible benefits from special treatment & loopholes as a result.
To return to the theme of taxation without representation, I suggest a tax reform to help correct part of that problem. Since so much of our government is more affected by politically directed money than by citizen votes, start taxing the money that buys representation (create taxation OF representation). Impose a 1000% or even 2000% or higher tax on all politically directed money: campaign contributions, lobbying expenses, purchases of political ads, etc. If it costs 10 or 20 times more than it does now to buy influence and benefits, some people might reconsider when it is worth it. Since our government is too often for sale, at least let the purchasers support that government by paying taxes when they do buy the government.
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 09, 2010 9:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mark wrote:
A recent poll about American attitudes toward government (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/09/AR2010100903308.html) showed that many people have bought the small government line, yet they still approve of many government services and programs, apparently without noticing the cognitive dissonance.

I don't think these goals are really mutually exclusive. What many people feel is that our govt. is out of control. We want a government that doesn't use vast amounts of tax dollars to spy on its own people, http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyond-control/ would like to see the wars ended and the military/industrial complex dismantled. Small government would also mean an end to billions of dollars thrown to connected companies like Haliburton (responsible for so many terrible abuses against our soldiers and contractors in Iraq, as well as the Deepwater Horizon blowout) and Blackwater mercenaries, not to mention the connected financial and healthcare industry insiders.

So yes, I am for smaller government. But as long as they're taking a single dollar in taxes, I want to see that dollar spent on programs that support life, not death, programs that benefit children, the elderly and generally "provide for those who have too little." The mainstream media automatically equates "big government" with social programs and is subtly contemptuous in pointing out a contradiction they have invented. There is nothing stupid about wanting a smaller government that actually works for the people, not against us.
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