Are you an informed voter?
Over half of America’s population does not sufficiently or safely understand their own government, their own laws, and most likely the campaign premises and rhetoric of political candidates running for offices that they will uphold, abide by, and then enact their civilian government and laws! Why not? Simple: growing inequality over four decades.
The average years of education in the United States is 12 years; a high school diploma. This average is barring various levels of sub-par or quality education. In 2011 only 30.44% of the U.S. adult population received a Bachelor’s Degree. Less than 8% of the American population attained a Master’s Degree or higher. These bleak figures are a result of one primary cause: the almost exorbitant cost of post-secondary education, again barring various levels of education quality. As we Americans approach another presidential and congressional election year, all the candidates, their campaign managers, and campaign-workers, all have Bachelor Degrees or higher. In other words, they make up a mere 8% or 30% of the American public, and speak to and campaign for votes to the other 92% or 70% of the population respectively.
This stark contrast of social imbalance is the quintessential definition of disparity; disparity of a subtle and complex kind.
On at least one occasion [Abraham] Lincoln gave some good advice to a young lawyer. “Billy,” he said, “don’t shoot too high – aim lower, and the common people will understand you. They are the ones you want to reach – at least, they are the ones you ought to reach. The educated and refined people will understand you anyway. If you aim too high, your idea will go over the heads of the masses and hit only those who need no hitting.”
Clearly Mr. Lincoln understood ordinary people. But more so, he not only understood, he related; he identified with ordinary ‘high school educated’ people, if you will.
Let’s Shoot Between the Eyes
There is one life-lesson that always holds true: actions speak louder (and truer) than eloquent words. What does that mean to you? What have you lived? What have you not only lived, but what have you lost, or almost lost? How miserably have you failed, and therefore learned a life-long lesson from? In other words, how well can you REALLY identify with the 92% of America? Did your expensive undergraduate and/or graduate education teach you how to live, even survive in poverty? Does your expensive degree indicate how perfectly you can relate to and lead 92% of the U.S. population? How and where have you spent the majority of your life, your job or career, and with your family both immediate and extended family? Does it represent anything close to the 70% — 92% of Americans?
Perhaps more importantly a question we should be asking our political candidates and leaders is this: “How well do you precisely understand the needs of some 50-100 various diverse ethnic, economic, social, educational, historical, and religious classes in America?” The purpose of this post/article is to show the dangerous trap of oversimplification to a high-school-educated population by the highly educated 8% of the population.
By the way, for the sake of disclosure I am from a lower-middle class family, raised in a lower-middle class neighborhood in south Dallas, Texas. I have a bachelor’s degree (Humanities) from a tiny private liberal arts college, and four semesters of graduate studies toward an incomplete master’s degree. I had a successful collegiate and semi-pro soccer career with a short stint in pro-soccer, all of which took me to five different continents around the world. I am what you might say in the middle of the road within this article; mixing with several different American and foreign socio-economic classes.
Reject the Politics of Polarization
Oversimplification is often radical extremism. Most intelligent people would agree that knee-jerk reactions are rarely productive, even destructive. The same applies in complex issues in a diverse complex nation such as the United States. This applies more so to increasingly globalized economies between nation-states.
The adage Knowledge is Power applies here. I would personally add to the adage, Knowledge = Power = More Wealth/More Resources/More Opportunities. Anyone who disagrees with my modified adage, kindly tell me. I would enjoy discussing it, or more accurately point out your folly (wink). For others, I am stating the obvious.
Anatole Kaletsky is an economic journalist and Chairman of the Institute for New Economic Thinking founded after the 2008 economic crisis. He is a graduate of King’s College at the University of Cambridge, U.K. in mathematics, and master’s degree graduate in economics from Harvard University. Kaletsky has much to say about inequality, polarization, and the upcoming fall elections in Europe and the United States:
…do these [political-economic] decisions really need to be so radical? Is it fashionable to proclaim that the future is a matter of black and white: bigger government or freer markets, national independence or a European super-state. But these extreme dichotomies do not make sense.
…New mechanisms of checks and balances between politics and economics are required. Economic problems ignore national borders; therefore, more complex mechanisms for international cooperation are needed in a globalized economy.
Kaletsky’s words ring true. The role of government in economic stability and social opportunity is paramount. Exactly HOW its role is defined cannot be oversimplified nor polarized. “The fashion for oversimplified radicalism” he states “has taken hold in both economic and political thinking – a tragic irony when global [and domestic] problems are clearly more complex than ever before.” It is simply unfair to America’s three-quarters majority to understand fully what the one-quarter minority is oversimplifying. The fact remains: for the last five decades America’s economic, social, and educational inequalities have widened and reached critical stages.
Another translation for polarization is discrimination. In other words, polarization divides as much as discrimination divides; the motive and end-result determines whether the discrimination is beneficial or harmful for the whole. Once again, whether the polarization is beneficial or detrimental to the whole cannot be determined by oversimplified descriptions or solutions. Therefore, let’s do our homework! Let’s study and analyze political philosophies beginning with the roots of our American political parties, and then conclude which philosophies and their corresponding political party’s best serve the greater good for the greatest number of Americans, or whether any of the parties serve it best.
America’s Political Parties
Since the late 1790’s the United States has had primarily a two-party political system: summarized (but not comprehensive), either liberal or conservative economic-social platforms. Throughout the past 5-political eras, these two parties formed innovative campaign techniques based on what was expressed by the current public opinion. As a result, there were often some blurring or crossover campaign techniques in between the liberal-left and conservative-right. These positions became various forms of “moderate” politics and have formed various third-party groups throughout the five political eras.
Briefly, our two-party then multi-party systems began with two members of George Washington’s cabinet: Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. This period is often called the First Party System. Washington was never in favor of a dividing party-system. He was of the opinion that as the cliché goes, “a house divided against itself, will not stand.” Perhaps Washington was not spot-on, but a divided house certainly does not function as efficiently. Over two centuries later, we still have a dominate two-party system with at least 3-4 minor parties. For a more in-depth review, click Political Parties in the United States.
The Second Party System (1829-1854) saw a redefining of the two previous parties: the Democratic-Republicans (Andrew Jackson supporters) and National-Republicans (John Quincy Adams supporters). Their primary issue was over centralized governing, a strong national bank and single currency, as opposed to state independence and local governing, and hence less federal involvement.
During the Third Party System (1855 – c.1897) the issue of slavery, or the spread of slavery could no longer take backstage. From this political era came our two modern major parties. The Republicans (descendents of Adams supporters) still promoting policies of a strong central government, one army and navy, and unified foreign trade-tariff policies, versus Democrats (descendents of Jackson-Van Buren supporters); promoting antebellum, agricultural, state freedoms and allowing continued slave-trade. This is in name only, however, because obviously the policy platforms have morphed in every presidential and congressional campaign since 1897.
Our Fourth Party System (1896-1932) saw the most critical times of our nation’s history since the Civil War and Reconstruction. This era began in an economic depression, then World War I and followed by the stock-market crash and Great Depression. Within one generation of America, there were no less than 15 major issues vehemently debated! It is here that at least one trend emerges inside party policies: business interests for Republicans; domestic-social interests for Democrats. For a more in-depth analysis, click Fourth Party System.
The Fifth Party System(1933 – c.1964) emerged from the Great Depression – caused by unregulated business-trade practices – and into World War II. From 1933 to 1945 Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt united labor unions, immigrants, minority and low-income voters, Southerners, Catholics, Jews, urbanites, and intellectuals; unprecedented in U.S. political history. From Roosevelt’s New Deal Coalition the Democrats dominated U.S. government policies and public support until Richard Nixon in 1969.
From America’s five political eras, and perhaps more precisely since the 1970’s, at least one theme can be gleaned from our five transitions: Because the presidential office and the two branches of Congress have swapped back-and-forth over 40 years now, 70% – 92% of Americans want their politicians to stay toward the middle of the political spectrum, not to the radical extremes. According to Stanford, Harvard, and Berkley PhD and Masters students of political sciences, “American political life continues to be dominated by a broad ideological consensus; the electorate continues to hover near the center of the political spectrum, and the parties, in order to remain competitive, generally move toward the center in order to attract voters.”
2012 Party Platforms
Before listing the five major party’s political platforms taken up by their respective candidates, I want to first summarize their party’s basic tenets. These tenets can be viewed on Political Parties in the United States: Party Comparisons, but I will give a quick rundown here starting with the oldest party (Democrat) to the newest (Constitution):
Current 2012 Presidential Candidate Platforms
There is a wonderful organization in Santa Monica, CA that lists a side-by-side comparison of the five major political party’s candidates on all the nation’s major issues called ProCon.org. Please click on their link for a more extensive list. They also have a convenient Find Your Match quiz-questionnaire of the presidential candidates that best match-up to your personal views of the major issues. Below-right is my summary of the historically controversial issues over the last three decades:
The policy issues presented in the table are not all the hot topics the candidates and their parties have debated. I strongly urge that you go to ProCon.org’s website and take a long look over all the issues and become familiar with each candidate’s perspective. Remember too, this table represents the federal issues; as an American citizen you also have similar policy-issues on your state and local levels too. Find them, thoroughly review them, and vote! If you are not yet registered to vote in your county, you have until Oct. 9th to get registered. Make your voice count!
Given the growing disparity in American education and economic opportunity for the impoverished and middle-class, the highly educated, the resourceful orators have learned the gift of eloquent rhetoric – who can sell a luxurious palace in the Arctic Circle – and so have oversimplified or distorted the comprehensive solutions to America’s crisis. How can the lower-class and middle-class (the 70% – 92%) lift themselves and their families out of inequality if they do not have access to quality educational opportunities that will not push them further into debt or to the end of their parent’s income? How can the lower and middle-classes afford the “Get out of Poverty” ticket if states continue to cut back support for good high schools, grade schools, and kindergartens, and the critically important teachers and staff required to uphold quality standards on campuses? In other words, 70% or more of Americans cannot pay for private primary or secondary schools that usually send their graduates to good colleges. And guess where most of these primary and secondary schools are located? They are in the wealthy suburbs that the 70+% cannot afford to live. Hence, a gradual disparity follows.
A micro and macro-analysis sheds light on this phenomenon: In the past, in order for the lower and middle-class to have hope of progression, the poor lived near the job opportunities, near the wealthy in the wealthy suburbs that provide quality education. Consequently, public schools possessed a student body with several various social and economic families. That was the microcosm. Because the United States has been the beacon of liberty (as shown by Lady Liberty in New York City) and opportunity to the world, what do you think our levels of foreign immigration have reached the last three decades? Since 1965 the influx of foreign immigrants has risen every year by about 1 million according to the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. It should be noted that these were the legally allowed immigrants. Many of these immigrants are entering the U.S. from under the same circumstances that I am describing domestically: inequality. This is the macrocosm. But inside America this has changed. Nobel Prize winner in economics, Joseph Stiglitz:
“As a recent study by Kendra Bischoff and Sean Reardon of Stanford University shows, [the socio-economic neighborhood] is changing: fewer poor are living in proximity to the rich, and fewer rich are living in proximity to the poor.”
What Stiglitz is pointing out is that what has happened past and present throughout the world’s unstable socio-economic regions is now happening inside America. This should come as no surprise when human nature is closely examined and placed in historical perspective. The wealthier get wealthier because they have more opportunities through more resources at their disposal. As their wealth increases, their perception of risk grows so they increase their “safety-nets” to protect against their perceived risk. What the 1% – 10% of America fails to recognize or accept (or in some cases deny and distort in related public policies) is that their phobia only becomes reality if socio-economic inequality rises and approach critical stages. As a result, their risk-prevention-phobia – or ignorance, or distortion – has the reverse affect. Stiglitz summarizes this vicious “phobic” cycle in a more realistic historical light:
“It’s certainly what one sees around the world: the more egalitarian societies work harder to preserve their social cohesion; in the more unequal societies, government policies and other institutions tend to foster the persistence of inequality. This pattern has been well documented.”
Throughout world history unequal societies, such as Rome, Victorian England, and Manifest Destiny America to name just three, record how inequality was justified. Today it is the same only with different titles, rhetoric, and derivatives. Today it is the explanation of, or in certain cases the distortion of, abstract market forces domestically and abroad. These modern explanations and distortions challenge even the most intelligent college graduate! Yet, gratefully Mr. Stiglitz rips away these fancy justifications and lays bare their true creations despite the concerted efforts of America’s 1 – 10%:
“The view I take is somewhat different. I begin with the observation made in chapters 1 and 2: other advanced industrial countries with similar technology and per capita income differ greatly from the United States in inequality of pretax income (before transfers), in inequality of after tax and transfer income, in inequality of wealth, and in economic mobility [rags-to-riches movement]. These countries also differ greatly from the United States in the trends in these four variables over time. If markets were the principal driving force, why do seemingly similar advanced industrial countries differ so much? [See my article:The Land of Opportunity?]
Our hypothesis is that market forces are real, but that they are shaped by political processes. Markets are shaped by laws, regulations, and institutions. Every law, every regulation, every institutional arrangement has distributive consequences – and the way we have been shaping America’s market economy works to the advantage of those at the top and to the disadvantage of the rest.
[But] there is another factor determining societal inequality… Government, as we have seen, shapes market forces. But so do societal norms and social institutions. Indeed, politics, to a large extent, reflects and amplifies societal norms. In many societies, those at the bottom consist disproportionately of groups that suffer, in one way or another, from discrimination. The extent of such discrimination [or polarization] is a matter of societal norms… These social norms and institutions, like markets, don’t exist in a vacuum: they too are shaped, in part, by the [resourceful] 1 percent.”
Despite that I have so far shown that growing inequality leads to growing volatility and social instability, which in severe cases leads eventually to civil revolt by the masses as seen in recent Middle-eastern countries, American government policies – influenced by America’s 1 – 10% individuals and their corporate institutional networks – still in 2012 continue to justify socio-economic inequality as a necessary ingredient to “free markets” and sound foundations of successful capitalism. On the contrary, I would like to show otherwise. For the sake of clarity, let’s follow this ideology through to its now 8-10 year result since 2008.
What Motivates Productive Citizenship?
Is inequality necessary to provide people with incentive?
I will continue this examination in the next article/blog: Productive Inequality. Check back often for its completion. The importance of truly understanding America’s political party’s (and their candidates) continued oversimplification to the 70-92% of Americans, that lead to social and economic ruin, cannot be overstated.