“Every transformation demands as its precondition ‘the ending of a world’-the collapse of an old philosophy of life”. C.G. Jung
“How Do We Get Out of This Mess”, an article by George Monbiot adapted from his book Out of the Wreckage: a new politics for an age of crisis was published in the Guardian on September 9, 2017 and seems valuable for two important reasons. First, it seeks to contextualize a premise for how we analyze our sociopolitical reality, determining that we are mythos-oriented and then, describing an evolving alternative narrative to replace the two primary competing allegories on which modern Western society is purportedly based. The first part seems more valuable, setting the stage for us to understand where we are and permitting us, or at least those of us interested in doing so, to construct our own alternative mythos or to adopt one already evolving. The second part is interesting and accurate but a bit lacking in substance, more a kind of motivational exercise than a serious analysis which is fine. In today’s disheartening climate we need catalysts for hope. The major drawback to the first part, at least to me, is that it is incomplete, limited in context to two Western sociopolitical experiences involving the conflicts between Keynesian economics and neoliberalism, ignoring socialist and democratic socialist theories and experiences. That seems a critical deficiency to me given that the latter, especially in the Nordic countries, represents our most obvious current sociopolitical success, nonetheless, a success still in need of significant improvement. The bulk of this essay however will deal with my own perspectives on specific actions we need to take to create and implement a new mythos, in essence my own second part for Mr. Monbiot’s article.
Premises for subsequent discussion
Real (hard) and social (soft) sciences
My own take on the issues posited starts with the premise that humans, like photons, have a dual nature, the particulate (individualistic) and the wave (collective) and that the problem posited throughout our existence has been how to balance the tension between the two when they come into conflict. Not exactly a novel observation but one important for setting the stage for discussion; an observation that involves the controversial proposition that “social” sciences can productively utilize “real” science analogues for analytical and predictive purposes.
Particles and waves, individuals and collectives
The so called “real” or “hard” sciences (usually mathematics, geometry, physics and biology) have historically provided the “social” or “soft” sciences (e.g., economics, political science, etc.) with almost irresistible lures for comparison and analogy which are usually then rejected by savants as inapplicable; indeed, all too many real science “experts” refuse to accept that social sciences involve science at all. Rather, they view them as quaint forms of art attempting to look grown up; perhaps rising to the level of disciplines. This is based on the difficulty of arriving at verifiable, testable predictions; however, if that were accurate, then, given the drastic changes in theories involving physics during the past century, the inexplicability of quantum mechanics would take physics, the most real and fundamental of sciences (with the possible exception of mathematics which may be more a language of science), out of the area of sciences as well.
As a social scientist (but very much enamored with real sciences, especially physics) my perception is that the difference between the two may involve more the scale of variables than the “nature of the beast”, a qualitative rather than quantitative distinction, i.e., variables have an inverse relationship to predictability as well as to the ability to test hypotheses, the greater the number of variables the more difficult predictability and testing become. Be that as it may, the real versus social science analogues relied on by determinists, i.e., those who reject the concept of free will in favor of predestination (e.g., Thomas Hobbes), based either on divine capriciousness or invariable physical consequences determined at the instant of creation (spontaneous or divine), time being an illusion, have not been in much favor during the past century, especially as Hegelian observations became tainted by national socialist and communist acceptance. However, during the 1990’s a novel concept took root which provides new support for the utility of social science analogues based on real science phenomena: memes.
Memetics is a fascinating concept for various reasons, among them its origins. “The word meme originated with Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins cites as inspiration the work of geneticist L. L. Cavalli-Sforza, anthropologist F. T. Cloak and ethologist J. M. Cullen.” (Meme, Wikipedia). Richard Dawkins, as my sons taught me, is virtually the god, or at least the messiah of atheism and of the primacy of the physical over the mythical yet meme collectives (memeplexes) may involve an entirely nonphysical form of virtual organisms, organisms as complex as religions, philosophies, history, society, etc. Ironically fascinating to me given Dawkins’ role in modern atheism is that some “creative” scientists, for example Ian Stewart, a noted mathematician, and Jack Cohen, a noted xenobiologist and mathematician, have played with the idea that memeplexes might attain sentience and something akin to divinity (see their novel, Heaven, published by Warner Books in 2004). A related concept, “panpsychism” was recently dealt with in an article by Corey S. Powell entitled “Is the Universe Conscious?”, all of which might make Dr. Dawkins a bit uncomfortable, sort of making himself his own Lucifer but then, in reality, Lucifer was a Roman divinity associated with light and truth before being inverted in the Christian pantheon. Interesting surely but admittedly not relevant to this essay, still, a few interesting tidbits here and there will help readers remain awake and interested.
Applied to social sciences, memeplexes breathe new life into social versus real science analogues, at least in the form of making it possible to compare the functioning and predictability of physical science derivatives like fluid dynamics and biological blood flow to, for example, monetary theory. Such comparisons are extremely useful because they mitigate the need to track almost infinite social science variables with more easily quantifiable physical science analogues. In essence, they conform to David Hume’s concept of “conventions” as alternatives for impossible to prove but essential truths (such as whether 2 + 2 will always equal 4) and as such, provide us a vehicle to generate new social hypotheses useful in the creation and evolution of new or at least improved social, political and economic philosophical complexes to guide our continuing evolution in a manner making our survival as individuals, as collectives and as a species more viable.
Corollary Observations on George Monbiot’s article
So, … By now you’re probably wondering what the foregoing has to do with George Monbiot’s article (especially if you’ve bothered to read it, something I recommend, … obviously).
Well, it lays the ground and framework for my response to his alternative mythos, one with which I largely agree but to which I’d like to provide more tangible and specific suggestions, suggestions that, to attain credibility, require the use of physical science analogues made credible through meme theory. There you have it.
In essence, Mr. Monbiot’s conclusion involves the transcendent importance of reliance on voluntary communities to transform society and thus liberate us from the neoliberal serfdom and Keynesian fallacies in which we find ourselves trapped, perhaps through a benign form of populism predicated on the belief that humans are by nature, as opposed to all other species, altruistic. It is a vision predicated on hope and on the rejection of despair, something I too believe essential if we are to do anything about our current condition other than engaging in emotionally gratifying but non-productive complaints and criticism. My contribution for purposes of this article focuses primarily on three themes, two involving foundational threads in our societal tapestry: the nature and purpose appropriate to money in a functional society and then, the desperate need for constitutional reform in the United States. Finally, and relevant to both of the foregoing, how we might now participate in staging a peaceful revolution to attain required reforms (hence the introductory photograph and quote by C.C., Jung, thanks to my beautiful friend Michelle Marcel).
Two Essential Suggestions: Monetary and Constitutional Reform
In this essay/article, I’ve focused on two econo-political reforms that I deem critical in order to regain popular control of society’s two most powerful institutions, the financial sector and economics, and participatory governance. These are modalities necessary for most other reforms, such as universal medical care, universal education, universal peace, minimization of corruption, etc. Other essential social improvements such as minimization of racism, xenophobia, sexism, religious intolerance, etc., ought to improve as well but require changes in our souls and in our hearts best accomplished through art and persuasive rather than critical philosophies.
The essay/article is a bit long, for which I apologize, but I try to use a bit of humor here and there to maintain your attention. If you find the arguments I make persuasive, please share.
Property: common, private and personal
My premise is that the nature of money has been deliberately distorted and its evolutionary utility stymied in order to permit its concentration in the hands of the very few on a self-perpetuating basis not tied to the value of their societal contributions. Most philosophers and social scientists agree that the distribution of wealth in the form of property is a social concept which originates with property as a collective good, the patrimony of mankind so to speak, but, that as John Locke described (albeit not in these words), the synthesis of collective property and the additional value added through individual effort justify the segregation of specifically affected collective property into private property. Socialists seek to create a more specific concept by describing such property as “personal” rather than “private”, a difference that somewhat restricts its transferability but not the right to its enjoyment (usufruct). In either case, it would seem the residue would remain collective. One of the great differences between capitalism, socialism and communism is determining what property constitutes such residue and how society should deal with it. Capitalism would have it leased to individuals in exchange for royalties, to use as they will, while socialism would seek to segregate it for administration by the state for popular benefit and communism, having no state, would as in the case of anarchism, rely on a positive transformation of human nature such as would permit the voluntary maximization of the use of property for the common good, without regard to ownership, which would become irrelevant: from each according to his (or her) abilities, to each, according to his (or her) needs.
Money, its creation and distribution
Money is a convenient social construct homogenizing the concept of property, making it fungible, even generic, in order to facilitate its transfer. However, it quickly became a means to permit its accumulation long after the “additional added value” that justified its segregation from the collective had dissipated; a transcended stage of societal evolution that transferred power from the strongest to the cleverest. Initially the value of money was tangible, it possessed some inherent value although the value was more psychological than physical, a value based on comparative scarcity rather than utility, a value ironically imposed through if not by the collective for the benefit of selected individuals (an example of John Rawls’ “Veil of Ignorance”).
During the latter part of the twentieth century, that tangibility was eliminated, probably in 1972 when the United States repudiated the anachronistic gold standard. Money then reflected the evolutionary reality that it had gradually become entirely intangible, in a sense representing some form of equity, an analogue to corporate stock, a representation of the issuing country’s aggregate goods and services, and, to some extent, their potential for economic growth (a discounted theory of present value). However, previous to that stage a strange phenomenon had been forced upon the social collective by a clever subgroup of individuals engaged in what had previously been a mere brokerage service, intermediation in the exchange process for a relatively small price, a commission. That innovative phenomenon (very detrimental to the vast majority of the members of the social collective) involved the divorce of the initial distribution of new money (expansion of the monetary supply to meet growth in the state’s equity) from the state to the financial community, primarily bankers. The concept is deliberately complex (perhaps more accurately obfuse) and its presentation rendered deliberately confusing; were it otherwise the social collective, at least in democratic societies, would never have accepted it. In reality the concept, while tortured, is rather simple. Con men (and con women) as well as great (albeit less than ethical) salespeople swear by it.
First, an organic description. Money is currently created by banks when they engage in the following sequence: they make loans to their preferred clients in a process similar to short sales, i.e., the sale of goods one does not own but hopes to acquire at a lower price thus generating a profit (a common practice on stock exchanges) with profits justified by the risk assumed, i.e., the risk that during the interval between sale and delivery, rather than drop, prices will remain stable or increase, thus generating losses. However, in the banker-money-generating sequence the risk is largely obviated because the state provides the commodity in question, money, at guaranteed lower prices, thus the only risk involves potential defaults on loans, a risk obviated by making first stage loans primarily to the best credit risks, i.e., the wealthiest among us. Over time, crystalizing with the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, the banking industry acquired a monopoly over receipt of newly created money and thus it and its allies, the financial sector (banks, investors, insurance companies and other financial intermediaries, … think vampires), assumed control over the entire economy. That monopoly has made it possible for banks to treat depositors as fee paying customers rather than creditors or partners in the lending process entitled to payment of reasonable interest for the use of their money, depositors not being all than necessary when government grants bankers a monopoly over low interest initial issue government loans.
As in the case of all short sales, the owners of borrowed assets are generally in lose-lose situations: if the gamble is successful, it will drive down the value of the assets loaned. As demonstrated below, that is now a position in which we and our government always find ourselves with respect to the financial community.
As though it were not enough that the financial community hijacked our money creation process and then loaned us back the money we loan it (true in both public and depositor borrower scenarios), modern financiers are engaged in a bit more serious example of legerdemain: the concept of “Financialization”. In essence, the financial community has developed and implemented a means of magnifying wealth through smoke and mirrors in the form of assigning independent value to utterly intangible derivatives of financial instruments, a concept virtually identical to making bets fungible so that one can buy a piece of someone else’s bets in a manner providing the person generating the bet with a profit. The result is that instruments representing financial derivatives, concepts with no independent value of their own other than the illusion of value assigned by the financial community, represent significantly more of the world’s wealth than tangible goods and services. A kind of legalized counterfeiting.
You’ve probably heard that in many states gambling is illegal. That’s only true for you although you do participate in the process through, among other things, higher commodity prices and general inflation and the costs of government bailouts of the financial industry when its bets go south.
Now let’s consider the unpleasant concept of taxation. It really comes in two flavors, public and private. We’ll discuss the first, well logically, first. It turns out that, although you never hear it mentioned, taxation and creation of new money are vitally linked!! Just kidding. They should be linked but they’re not. Here’s the story:
- Public Taxation
Taxation as a means of funding public governance is in all probability anachronistic. It has been ever since money became intangible, when it transitioned from something with a tangible albeit illusory value (i.e., gold, silver, sea shells, etc.) into equity (the representation of the issuing state’s total goods and services on a current and discounted future basis). If governments themselves controlled the creation and distribution of new money eliminating financial sector intermediaries, then governments could fund all government expenses directly through issuance of new money, totally obviating the need for both taxes and public borrowing. Of course, that issuance requires discipline in order to minimize resulting inflation, but the concept of inflation in the absence of taxation has been deliberately distorted or ignored. Constitutionally imposed parameters on the issuance of new money, for example, by tying to a historically accurate percentage of gross domestic product, could easily provide such required discipline.
To challenge such adverse propaganda, let’s use this easy to understand illustration on the comparative impacts of taxation versus inflation on purchasing power. Assume that the costs of governance equal 30% of gross domestic product. If you earn $10,000 dollars a year and pay 30% of that in taxes, your purchasing power is a net $7,000. If you earn the same $10,000 a year and pay no taxes but inflation is 30%, then your net purchasing power is reduced to $7,000. No difference. Or is there?
Actually, there is. Since public debt would no longer be required to fund shortfalls in taxes versus governmental expenditures, there are no interest payments on public debt. More importantly, as there would be no tax collection, there would be no ability to cheat on tax payments, whether legally through deductions and credits or illegally through evasion. Those efficiencies would significantly increase your net purchasing power. Of course, investors and the financial community would suffer a great deal; they as well as their advisors, consultants, lawyers and accountants would be relegated to an economic opportunity status no different than that of everyone else.
So, if a no taxation option ever came to a vote, would you support its elimination?
- Functional taxation
While given economic realities the concept of taxation is anachronistic for purposes of raising the revenue required to fund governmental operations, it does have one important systemic function, de-clogging a clogged circulatory system. Like blood and other fluids (but especially blood, the best analogue for money), money functions only when it circulates and distortions on its ability to circulate efficiently render economic systems dysfunctional. Money that concentrates inefficiently affects its circulatory capacity and needs to be placed back into normal circulation if inefficient wealth distortions are to be minimized. That requires the removal of non-circulating money from those holding it hostage, probably best accomplished through taxation of non-productive assets and cash.
Taxation of income outside a justifiably productive range is probably also necessary to correct current wealth distribution inequities and that might best be accomplished through a punitive tax on excess salaries and salary equivalents (e.g., perks and benefits). That ought probably to involve establishment of a range between the lowest and highest paid employees in any enterprise, for example, a hundred to one. For the tax to be avoided, the lowest paid employees would have to have their income adjusted in proportion with increases in compensation to the highest paid individuals, retaining the hundred to one ratio, of course, subject to additional anti-manipulative penalties. Minimum wages would probably cease to become a problem.
- Private taxation and monopolies
Now let’s consider private taxation, something you may not have considered although it impacts you on an hourly basis. Private taxation involves the myriad of charges you pay to private entities in excess of value earned and includes two principal components, interest payments and the profit you are charged for goods and services you use which are premised on monopolistic advantages rather than unfettered supply and demand. Monopolies permit providers to charge you whatever they can get away with regardless of costs of creation or production because the supply side of the equation is artificially limited. Monopolies can be created with or without governmental intervention although the vast majority require enforcement through governmental coercion, albeit disguising steel gauntlets with silk gloves. For example, government enforcement of intellectual property rights.
At present, intellectual property rights generally last for seventy years, virtually one lifetime, and most, or at least the most valuable are held by corporations, in effect illusory investment and management conglomerates, rather than by those who were involved in the creation process purportedly protected. The protected rights may or may not be used, in fact, they’re frequently warehoused in order to extend the financially productive life of obsolete products. They are utterly anti-competitive and from a collective perspective, incoherent. They permit the legalization of mass murder through deprivation of medication to those most in need unless they are willing and able to pay unjustifiable prices. In essence, they have become utterly anticompetitive, undermining the most critical pillars of capitalist theory as a vehicle for attaining the common good (competition and innovation), as well as antisocial, increasing overall inflation in a manner that damages the most vulnerable.
Of course incentives to create new products and services are justifiable and reasonable but there can be no justification for today’s exaggerated system either in duration or in its perpetuation when the protected goods and services are not marketed or marketed without regard to demand. Any artificial limit on supply which results in increased pricing are societally counterproductive. A ten year exclusive period requiring implementation within two would seem arguably adequate, increasing rather than decreasing motivation for innovation.
Monopolies are not limited to intellectual property rights, they are enforced professionally (e.g., governmental licensing requirements for bankers, lenders, lawyers, physicians, accountants, plumbers, contractors, etc.) and in every case they distort the purported natural economic laws of supply and demand generating unearned income, i.e., private, albeit governmentally enforced taxation.
While not generally described as such, all additional expenses associated with such monopolistic realities are in effect, taxes paid to private individuals, for private benefits, at your expense.
- Domestic debt and mandatory conversion
If public taxation is anachronistic and private taxation is unfair, public debt, the borrowing of money by governments to fund government operations when public tax revenues are inadequate, is ludicrous. In a system where taxation is eliminated except as required to unblock circulation, there would never be a shortfall in new money requiring resort to public borrowing thus there could never be a justification for public debt.
But what to do about existing public debt. Of course, it could be arbitrarily cancelled, as in bankruptcy, but that would be highly disruptive, foolish and morally repugnant absent some sort of justification based on illegalities in its generation. Public debt is generally created, on a domestic basis, when the financial industry (including investors) lends money it borrowed from the government back to the government but at higher interest rates. This is done through the “purchase of government securities backed with the full faith and credit of the issuing country, e.g., the United States, either in interest bearing form or as face value certificates sold at a discount. A very bright student commenting on a lecture on point once described it to me as being like lending someone your home, then having to rent it back in order to use it. Are we really that stupid? As the American Monetary Institute constantly points out, yes we are! In fact, we appear to be even more stupid than that makes us seem.
Public debt, like all debt, is to money as plasma is to blood. It is itself inflationary. It’s a purportedly short term solution to which we’ve become addicted with consequences all too similar to the worst opiate obsessions. It is frequently analogized to personal debt, for example, credit card debt. The difference however is vast given the fact that a government in control of its own monetary supply can engage in the forced conversion of its debt into cash in the same manner that corporations with properly structured financial structures can force conversion of their debt (bonds, debentures, etc.) into equity (common stock). Of course, given both pragmatic and philosophical considerations, conversion should only be forced concurrently with a prohibition on future public borrowing in association with replacement of taxation with financing of governance through expansion of the monetary supply (issuance of new money) as described above. Once a conversion is forced it must be assumed that future public debt would be prohibitively costly, if available at all.
The inflationary consequences of such conversion, the primary criticism presented, would be problematic on the short term although not to the extent publicly and loudly proclaimed by debt holders’ representatives for several reasons. First, because debt is itself inflationary and thus its cancellation reduces such inflationary pressures permanently, an aspect subject to immediate discounting of otherwise applicable conversion related inflation; and second, because the termination of related debt servicing obligations (currently approximately 6.5% of the national budget) would dramatically reduce taxation, boosting purchasing power and thus offsetting the consequences of inflation. If as suggested above, taxation were eliminated, then the effect of forced conversion on inflation would be directly offset with increased purchasing power on a one to one ratio.
Much like a drug addict experiencing withdrawal, forced conversion of public debt to cash would involve a temporary unpleasant period followed, assuming no relapse, by a much healthier life.
So, forget about comparing government debt to household debt (unless you own your own money tree), compare it instead to narcotics addiction.
- Non-financial justifications for public debt
Alexander Hamilton was a firm believer in public debt, not as a means of raising required revenue but as a way of generating loyalty. He reasoned that someone who was owed money had a vested interest in assuring the success of his debtor and that in new country, public debt would invest the citizenry in the country’s success. He seems to have been proven correct. The concept also works when the creditors are foreign governments but only if, as in the case of the United States and the People’s Republic of China, the debtor’s military power is superior to that of the creditor. Of course, the obvers situation can be disastrous. The focal factor involves the power of the debtor and the amount of debt involved. Ironically, the greater the debt the more power the debtor enjoys as the risk to the creditor becomes less and less tolerable, a situation similar to the too large to fail financial institutions during 2008, where despite their egregious conduct, they not only got off “Scott free”, they were able to appropriate large amounts of additional public money, much of it used to enrich the very people responsible for the financial collapse.
In the current case of China and the United States, the United States is in a great position. It enjoys the proceeds of the loans while at the same time, placing China’s decisions on international financial policy in a strait jacket.
- International Debt
International debt is not subject to the rules applicable to domestic debt for several reasons, all political or military. It is a relationship based on relative power and outside a state’s normal ability to generate legal tender. There is no formal international legal tender although there are national currencies used as reserve currencies, i.e., currencies favored by investors and participants in international trade, the United States dollar currently being the most important although the Euro is gaining in importance but subject to serious structural deficiencies in light of the absence of common economic policies in the European Union. The BRICS countries, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have made important strides in developing an alternative economic structure but neoliberal interests allied to the United States have recently succeeded in prying Brazil and India back to the more traditional fold. Still, the nascent international finance institutions associated with the BRICS are gaining ever widening acceptance among second and third world countries and seem to be developing coherent and coordinated plans for large scale future expansion.
International debt can be defaulted upon and forced conversion can be attempted, under threat of default, but the political complications make it a much less useful tactic than its domestic counterpart.
Constitutional and Governance Reform
Monetary reform is not our only major problem, we also have a dysfunctional system of governance at the federal level predicated on calcified and undemocratic electoral systems resulting in an entrenched duopoly. The fiscal reforms discussed above would in all likelihood require concurrent reforms in governance, both institutionally and culturally, almost certainly requiring the convocation of a new constitutional convention.
Constitutional Reform, how to convene a new Convention:
The United States constitution of 1787 has grown old. It has certainly never been a democratic instrument but through common law, tradition and creative “interpretation”, it has survived for almost two-hundred and forty years disguised in democratic trappings. However, it is being tested today more than at any time since the Civil War era and is in desperate need of renovation in order to face increasingly desperate sociocultural challenges. While purported realists insist that regardless of how obvious the need for constitutional reform is at the federal level, the possibility of attaining it seems virtually impossible given the special vested interest in the current system by sitting members of both houses of Congress. Still, “realists” is all too often the term favored by pessimists to describe themselves. They describe optimists as dreamers but dreamers who make their aspirations reality are then called men or women of vision. Thus, though “advertised by the mainstream media as virtually impossible, constitutional reform may not prove as difficult as it seems.
As recent presidential elections have resulted in Electoral College victories for losers in the popular vote, a phenomena that almost always favors the GOP, clamor for change led by Democratic Party leaders has resulted in a stirring of interest for constitutional reform. However, on analysis, the current structure of the Electoral College is an essential element of the federal structure adopted by the Founding Fathers in 1787 and its rational modification ought to require a fundamental reconsideration of our entire constitutional structure, a structure severely undermined by seemingly democratic and pragmatic reforms during the Wilson administration a century ago, including the 16th and 17th amendments providing for a federal income tax and the popular election of senators, both of which severely weakened the powers of state governments. Thus, instead of more ad hoc patchwork amendments, it is way past time for an integral reevaluation of our current Constitution.
Although traditionally constitutional amendments have always been Congress driven and Congress has always resisted calls for a new Constitutional convention, perhaps based on memories of what happened to the Continental Congress and the Articles of Confederation when the agreed to a call for a meeting of state representatives to consider there reformation, the federal Congress is not the only institution authorized to convene a constitutional convention, it can also originate in the states (see “Federal Electoral Reform through Popular State Level Action”). Our system, which was once the world’s most progressive has, over time, become anachronistic compared to others. In many other countries, “representative democracy”, really a form of elective oligarchy, has been replaced by participatory democracy which supplements representative democracy with more direct forms of democracy such as recall, referenda, plebiscite and initiative. Indeed, most or our own state governments, much more democratic than the federal government, have adopted participatory in place of representative democracy in their own constitutions.
Constitutional reform through action at the state level
The current federal Constitution gives states the right to call a federal constitutional convention and the states themselves have in many instances adopted constitutional procedures for participatory governance, procedures such as initiative and referendum and plebiscite and recall, and the right to initiate and implement reform of state constitutions. It also gives them a great deal of control over how representatives to the Electoral College are chosen and allocated and how Congressional districts are determined. Given that capacity, it is possible in many, perhaps most states, to amend their constitutions through citizen initiative. Some examples of what might therefor be accomplished include:
- Changing the method for selection of presidential electors from the currently prevalent “winner take all” system to systems based on proportional representation, i.e., electors allocated based on the percentage of votes received by candidates (see reference to “single transferable vote” below). That would facilitate even minor party representation in the electoral process although it would retain the Electoral College’s bias in favor of less populated states.
- The elimination of gerrymandering and promotion of real democracy by providing for the election of members of the House of Representatives in multi member rather than single member districts, or even on a state wide basis, in each case using proportional representation (the Irish Republic model of single transferable vote is recommended). Each party’s representation would be in proportion to the percentage of the vote received rather than in single winner take all (and the Hell with the rest) systems currently in place. That would provide minorities and minor parties with real Congressional representation.
- The creation of a process for citizen initiative of state calls for a federal constitutional convention (long, long overdue).
Decisions pertaining to all of the foregoing are allocated to the states in the federal constitution. Of course, electoral reforms analogous to the foregoing providing for proportional representation within the state governments themselves could be just as easily accomplished. The main threat might come from our entrenched judiciary but that might prove problematic to the judiciary as it might tempt voters to reconsider whether or not the judiciary really is truly independent, something which might in turn result in a positive reevaluation of the judiciary’s role by its own members (see “Democratic Socialism in America”).
Structural Constitutional reform
There are fundamental questions to be considered after our quarter of a millennium experiment with constitutional government, primarily regarding federalism; separation of powers; bicameralism; the relationship between democracy, pluralism and liberty; term limits and lifetime appointments; the nature of a political representative’s relationship to his or her constituents and others (e.g., contributors); political corruption and patronage; the special privileges accorded the press in an age when propaganda and entertainment masquerade as journalism; the basis and methodologies for constitutional control in the face of supra-constitutional judicial activism; and, how to make participatory government really participatory, increasing both the modalities for direct citizen participation and means to assure that participation is universal.
While I certainly have opinions on each issue, they need to be studied and addressed from multiple perspectives and hopefully resolved through apolitical means rather than an incoherent political give and take process such as so frequently results in incoherent and contradictory constitutions. Rather, relying on a process based on empirical studies of existing constitutions, sociological studies contextualizing experiences in light of our unique societal characteristics and innovative suggestions from experts in the field coupled with direct citizen participation.
Based on my own intensive studies, including teaching college political science, government and international relations courses on Constitutional Theory and Government and Comparative Political Systems, I have become intrigued by the Irish Republic’s constitution and its innovations which reconcile important competing governmental interest in very synergistic as well as pragmatic manners (see the “Constitution of Ireland”). However, there are many fascinating alternative models that bear consideration, as well as a great deal of room for innovation. One aspect that does seem critical to me is that a constitution be written for people rather than for lawyers inclined to distort it and that it be brief and general enough for most people to read and understand rather than an attempt to micromanage future generations. Also, that if it is to create a democratic form of governance, it require both popular ratification, as well as a methods for popularly initiated amendment.
Suggestions for the Implementation of Proposed New Societal Mythos
The financial community and senior corporate executives now own our primary means of communication as well as our political system, including both major political parties, making change very difficult at best, regardless of how justifiable and technically easy to accomplish. There are no holds they would bar, there is nothing they will not do to maintain their ownership of the international neoliberal economic system, including orchestrating an overthrow of the United States government, subtly if possible but flagrantly if necessary. They cannot be taken lightly or counted on to play by the rules or to do the right thing.
Consider, for example, current efforts to impose censorship via algorithms designed to limit social media communication adverse to establishment interests in the name of an alleged war on “fake news” (see, e.g., Chris Hedges, “The Silencing of Dissent”, Truthdig, September 17, 2017), another war like that on drugs and “terror”. But hard is not synonymous with impossible.
Many years ago I taught a class on comparative religions which I expanded to include primitive religions and mythology. One exam question asked for a definition of mythology and a clever student responded in three words, a daring but fairly successful gambit. “Other people’s religions”. A similar response might be made with respect to populism. Perhaps its best definition might be “functioning democracy where the results are not to our liking”.
Populism has a bad rap today. Perhaps it always has. But what is populism? Stripped of its pejorative connotations, it seems to be the exercise of democracy free of constraints imposed by both moral and economic elites. A very bad thing for those who have managed to corner the market on political and economic power through manipulation of our verisimilitude of democracy as well as for those who find the ethical and moral standards of the populace at large to be unacceptably deficient (e.g., attitudes involving racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc.).
After a period of quiescence, populism has been ascendant during the past several years. Examples include voters’ decisions reacting to financial crises in Greece, Spain and Portugal, etc., the decisions of the electorate in the United Kingdom on continuance in the European Union, and, recent presidential and legislative elections in various countries, most notably in the United States.
Populism is not a left or right wing phenomenon, it transcends philosophical classifications, thus, as Hillary Clinton bemoans, it attacked her from the left in the form of the Bernie Sanders led rebellion against Democratic Party neoliberalism and from the right in the form of Tea party crystallization in the image of Donald Trump. It is not something that mainstream political parties, the mainstream media, or the elites who control them find at all attractive.
Populism tends to be destabilizing, to be against rather than for ideals and ideologies, a reaction against dysfunctionally calcified economic and political currents. When successful it tends to be unpredictable, it has to be; were that not the case establishment forces would have successfully diverted it. Eventually, populism seems to almost always fail, running out of energy as its reactionary (not in the sense of conservative but rather as a reaction against something) fundamentals are usually bereft of the competing ideas necessary to attain systemic reform.
However, populist energy fused with coherently organized and integral innovative ideas, especially functional, well designed systemic ideas, can evolve into revolutionary change. Too frequently revolutionary change is associated with violence as in the French and Bolshevik revolutions, and sometimes very negative change as in the fascist revolutions of the early twentieth century. But not necessarily so. Revolution relates to fundamental change over an apparently relatively short period of time, although its causes may have been long in developing.
Peaceful revolution almost visited the United States during the late nineteen sixties but its lasting effects were more cultural than sociopolitical and the establishment’s counter attack was brilliant in its subtlety; it accepted cultural elements involving music and other forms of entertainment, even drugs and sexual liberation, albeit informally, but as in the case of those who’ve sought to conquer China, it absorbed most of the “revolution’s leaders into the evolving capitalist culture, turning them from hippies into yuppies and then, into Clinton-Obama Democrats. Fizzzzzzzz went the fuse; revolution over; … apparently. That’s not to say that important seeds were not planted, especially with respect to the reduction in racism, the recognition of feminism and the redefinition of sexual deviance, but it may be that they were too quickly harvested. It may be that the fields need to be prepared and planted anew.
- Oppose, obstruct and polarize, redux
The hubris inherent as economic neoliberalism bred militaristic neo-conservatism may prove to be the system’s Achilles’ heel; the Deep States’ secret vulnerability, the paper tigers’ teeth. We are engulfed in a miasma of despair, but tolerable despair, an annoyance, a terminal annoyance perhaps, but that’s an aspect most of us have failed to perceive. For now it just makes us uncomfortable and inefficient and annoyed, but not really disturbed enough to act, certainly not to act in a revolutionary manner. But that may be changing. Changing in a dangerous manner, but not all of the results of the laws of unintended consequences need be negative.
The reaction of the shocked oligarchy to the populist results of the last United States presidential election, both during the staged Democratic Party primaries and the subsequent general election have been hysterically hyperbolic. Mostly distortive and incoherent, that’s true, but finding themselves not exactly on the outs but on the periphery when their well laid plans had led them to believe that permanent ultimate power was in their grasp, the oligarchy seems to have panicked. It’s resorted to a dangerous gambit, an attempt to generate its own brand of populism but one it feels that it can control. The oligarchs brimming wallets have been opened to pay for highly publicized and hyped “mass” demonstrations (at least from the proper camera angle) and for staged protests on an almost 24/7 cycle (at least news cycle, sometimes re-runs are necessary).
Rather than abandoning their failed policies of divide and rule “Identity Politics”, Clinton – Obama Democrats have doubled and triple downed, and they’ve generated a highly polarized public climate, a mood generalized by actions and counteractions and reactions and counter-reactions, each more heated and more violent than the next. A series of chain reactions verging on the uncontrolled which might provide the catalysts for revolution.
The oligarchy understands that but believes it can control it, that with enough noise and confusion and paralyses and media hype it can accomplish here what it recently accomplished in the Ukraine and in Brazil and is working on in Venezuela, and it has a target that rather than move out of the way thumbs his nose and wiggles his ears (figuratively). But fires once started are sometimes difficult to control, sometimes impossibly so, opening the theater to other actors. Just as Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky found out during the February Revolution that broke out in Russia a century ago.
- Merger of Propaganda with entertainment leads to lost credibility
The mainstream media has been essential for the oligarchy’s anti-populist counterattacks and it has thrown all caution to the wind, creative writing unbound by any need for consistency presented as journalism with predictable consequences. During the last electoral cycle published news stories were too frequently written or edited by workers for the Clinton campaign and on at least one occasion, Donna Brazile, then a purported journalist working for debate organizer CNN, fed candidate Clinton debate questions in advance. Unfortunately for the Clinton campaign, WikiLeaks leaked emails demonstrating the Democratic Party’s numerous campaign violations making such improprieties public knowledge. In a bizarre twist, rather than focus on such violations the mainstream media launched a massive attack on the leaks, alleging that they were part of a coordinated Russian – Trump campaign effort to steal the election from its rightful owner. The purported Russiagate “scandal has dominated the news for almost a year without any substantive evidence, but creative writing requires no evidence, nor does propaganda, just constant repetition in the hopes that it will sink in and drown out real evidence.
While it has apparently not helped the Democratic Party, the oligarchy’s current wholly owned political party of choice, much of its other wholly owned party has fully cooperated in the effort. Somewhat surprisingly the public has yet to buy in. Perhaps even shocking but, … evidently, the public is not as stupid as anticipated and rumbles of suspicion are leaking out in social and alternative media. Predictable but still strange. Mainstream journalism has suffered an almost total loss of credibility as its “useful errors” have become the norm but nonetheless, it still manages to seriously impact public perceptions through the use of imminent danger terror mongering, mainly involving alleged Russian control of the United States electoral process and the incoherent but purportedly related threat of a neo-Nazi regime now in control.
Still, while very few trust the media, there is a large vacuum in sources for finding out what really is going on and the oligarchy is working overtime to assure that no real news can effectively leak in, doing so though a propaganda campaign to discredit alternative sources of information, ironically labelling them as fake news sources, while simultaneous organizing public and private efforts to censor non-traditional (translation: non-controlled) news sources. Most troubling in this regard is a public (Obama’s Counter Disinformation and Anti-Propaganda Act) and private alliance (use of algorithms to control social media dissemination by Facebook, Google, etc.) to regulate purported “fake news”, mostly at present involving matters opposed to Clinton – Obama allegations involving anti-Trump issues. Ironic that the government de jour is the entity on the defensive as the prior government maintains operating control over most of the bureaucracy. At the same time, in order to distract the public from the dearth of real Russiagate related facts, the oligarchy and the mainstream media have decided to reignite the United States Civil War as well as World War II, labelling opponents of their current efforts as neo-Nazi racists.
Gotta give them credit, at least an A for effort. But the public knows when it is being lied to now, and that is fertile ground for an anti-oligarchic reaction.
How to implement reform of the currently corrupt and dysfunctional econo-political system?
Given the current context and all the establishment efforts to maintain the sinecure of its adherents, is change possible?
Good question. Let’s look at it from another angle.
Given the current atmosphere, how might a political movement premised on the elimination of taxes in conjunction with integral monetary reform fare? One with carefully prepared analysis and explanations in language the public can easily understand? One that makes clear how much has been stolen from the public during the last century. One backed by Thomas Piketty’s research in his opus and very popular Capital in the Twenty-First Century?
As indicated above, the mainstream media would in all likelihood be the first and most important oligarchic line of defense to the proposed monetary reforms espoused in this article. Fear, hyperbole and distortion are its weapons of choice and would be deployed by legions of experts on news programs, social media, etc. Their success would largely depend on the production quality of the materials used as well as the refinement of behaviorist links designed to push our buttons towards predetermined reactions (an equivalent to greater evil electoral strategies) but also on just how much credibility the mainstream media and traditionalist institutions will have lost during the interim prior to introduction of the proposed reforms. It is a virtual certainty that despite the quality and number of proponents for monetary policy and fiscal reform, their airtime will be almost totally limited, as was the case with third party candidates during the last election (and virtually every previous election during the past half century, with the exception of the Ross Perot phenomenon), thus, the evolution of alternative media and social media during the interim as alternatives to the mainstream media may be determinative, hence the current drive by Google, Facebook and others to manipulate posting of information so as to promote views with which they agree and hide those of which they disapprove (see, e.g., Chris Hedges, “The Silencing of Dissent”, Truthdig, September 17, 2017).
That means that a very energetic, person to person communicative campaign designed to generate viral results through email, YouTube, etc., needs to be organized, implemented and supervised, with its own polling given the utter unreliability and misuse of polling during the past few electoral cycles all over the world. Also, efforts must be undertaken to develop new Internet infrastructural participants that might replace or at least supplement those popular today, such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. Difficult it’s true, but given the nature of current technology and the rate of technological obsolescence as well as the potential profitability for new entrants, hardly impossible.
If there is hyperbolic hysteria now, one wonders how one might describe what the reaction would be then. But the mainstream media’s constant cries of wolf, its demonstrated unreliability and disrespect for the intellectual capabilities and faith in the credulity of the American public may render its utility counterproductive. Its members may not prove to be the carbon rods which the bipartisan, Deep State oligarchy expect them to be. Hubris breeds overconfidence and on occasion, overconfidence breeds defeat.
It seems obvious to most that the current duopolistic political system in the United States is dysfunctional at best but that change seems almost unattainable. The federal judiciary supports the current system by refusing to find legislation specifically designed to preserve the two party system violative of equal protection rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution and even worse, in its Citizens United decision, the United States Supreme Courts made money the principal electoral arbiter. Still, we are not totally helpless and there are means to effect required change, if we are serious about it and willing to explore alternatives.
One alternative involves jettisoning the current major political parties in favor of new ones. A multi-party system is far more representative that a duopoly but even then, our current winner-take-all, first past the post unidistrital system generally disenfranchises almost half of the electorate. It also makes third parties unviable. It need not be that way, much of the world uses a proportional electoral system for legislative elections with multi member districts in which legislative seats are awarded in proportion to the percentage of the vote attained, thus, even if a political party only attained sis percent of the vote, it would still have congressional representation. In some countries such systems are converted into party-centric systems but the Irish Republic’s single transferable vote system with ranked voting solves that issue. It is tried and true and as indicated above, it can be adopted in the United States through state action rather than federal constitutional amendment; that would effect a profound change.
Another fundamental change possible without required legislation at all would be a supplement to political parties as political focal points. I favor the creation of membership based political movements that never present their own candidates but rather endorse candidates deemed qualified, not limited to one per race, perhaps in some sort of prioritized order of recommendation, but also listing candidates who ought to be opposed. It would not provide political contributions but recommend that its members do so directly, keeping sticky fingers off of collective funds. It would also endorse and oppose issues. It would be prohibited from endorsing political parties or blanket tickets and encouraged never to concentrate on endorsements from just one formal party, indeed, it would be encouraged to endorse independent and third party candidates. Progressives have attempted to do so for almost a decade but the organizations have morphed into Democratic Party support groups.
The need for meaningful reform of the impact of money on politics is almost universally recognized, or at least given lip service, but the United States Supreme Court stands as an almost impenetrable barrier to reform much to bipartisan political relief; the Citizens United decision permits almost total control of the electoral process by the wealthiest among us, at least for now, but at the same time it provides another popular rallying cry for constitutional reform, real bipartisan demand at the voter level for the constitution to be amended, perhaps to specifically prohibit political contributions in cash or in kind to candidates for whom the elector is not legally able to vote, and to prohibit any contributions or campaigning until the start of a limited electoral period, say five months. The latter with the goal of ending the perpetual campaign and fund raising cycle that currently occupies most of our public officials’ attention. Voters, rather than special interests, must regain control of our political processes, and elected officials need to spend the vast majority of their time on governmental rather than electoral affairs.
As indicated above, reform of electoral processes through state level action is very realistic, and through such venue, federal constitutional reform on an integral basis may prove much more possible than the mainstream media will permit us to believe. The fury now being artificially generated for partisan political purposes may instead be diverted towards real reform, if enough of us can be convinced that we have been and are being manipulated, but that we can use the energy and organization being developed for purpose other than those that our de facto masters intend. Instead of accepting the inevitability of polarization, we can unite to act against them and effect real and meaningfully beneficent change.
Why Now May be the Optimal Time for Essential Change
A final factor making me believe (as I have admittedly thought so often in the past) that the time for change is now involves the public’s reaction to the recent spate of historic natural cataclysms. As Mr. Monbiot’s article posits, we’ve come to realize that as the People, on our own, we can collaborate with each other to meet our most critical needs under the most trying of circumstances. That we are not only needy, winy complainers looking for a mommy and daddy state to save us from the consequences of our own foolishness if only we wail and shout and protest, but rather that we have the skills and mental abilities to make things right.
That sense of self confidence and self-worth, combined with an almost universal lack of trust in our governing political and economic institutions have already generated the energy necessary to ignite populist movements on both ends of the political spectrum. If we can add to that the specifics necessary to accomplish positive fundamental and long term change making the possibility of attaining real common welfare, real equity and equality and justice, and if we can overcome our increasing tendencies towards attention deficit disorders on concentrate on the tasks at hand, maybe, just maybe, we can attain the society almost all of us hope for. One that synergistically reconciles our collectivist and individualist natures permitting each of us to attain his or her maximum potential but in the safety of a collectivist safety net.
A moment to fantasize:
In the breeze I hear echoes of Albert Einstein and Noam Chomsky, of Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, and of Martin Luther King, Jr. arguing with Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Playing in the background, Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a’ Changing” but sung by Joan Baez, still a bit miffed at the composer, but ….
Wouldn’t that beat all?
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen). Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at www.guillermocalvo.com.
 The single transferable vote (STV) is a voting system designed to achieve proportional representation through ranked voting in multi-seat organizations or constituencies (voting districts). Under STV, an elector (voter) has a single vote that is initially allocated to their most preferred candidate and, as the count proceeds and candidates are either elected or eliminated, is transferred to other candidates according to the voter’s stated preferences, in proportion to any surplus or discarded votes. The exact method of reapportioning votes can vary. The system provides approximately proportional representation, enables votes to be cast for individual candidates rather than for parties, and—compared to first-past-the-post voting—reduces “wasted” votes (votes on sure losers or sure winners) by transferring them to other candidates. Extract from Wikipedia article linked.
 Almost a half century ago a group of citizens inspired by Rexford Guy Tugwell sought to initiate and implement such an undertaking but ran out of steam, perhaps for the best (see The Emerging Constitution). While the results were perhaps not what one might have hoped, the idea of a citizen led process for proposing specific integral constitutional reform has merit, especially if undertaken by different groups who then meet to discuss them and arrive at some form of consensus permitting presentation of citizen initiatives at a new constitutional convention.