Games of Unknowledging – Part I

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“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance,
it is the illusion of knowledge.”
— Stephen Hawking

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How much do we know? How much do we not know? How much or how little should we know or shouldn’t know? Why do we either know it or don’t know it? What creates ignorance, keeps it alive, hidden, distorted, or used for political-military purposes?

Agnotology, according to Wikipedia, is a recent new field of study about culturally induced ignorance or doubt. Renown cosmologist and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (above) sums up our task well. In our current age of technological devices and data, the internet (particularly social media) and the speedy access to and dissemination of information, as well as the instability or unavailability of quality broader education, it has become more paramount than ever before in human history for us to recognize, grapple, dissect, and understand exactly what state, who for, and how well knowledge and ignorance coexist or are imbalanced, and if it is significant or insignificant and why.
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Ignorance is generated in many various forms. Naivety, neglect or apathy, myopia, secrecy, disinformation, extinction, censorship or suppression, faith, and forgetfulness. They are all sources and surrogates of ignorance. By it’s very definition it permeates many recognized and unrecognized domains. Writing about women’s rights and their social issues past and present, Penn State University’s Dr. Nancy Tuana says:

“…it is important that our epistemologies not limit attention simply to what is known or believed to be known. If we are to fully understand the complex practices of knowledge production and the variety of features that account for why something is known, we must also understand the practices that account for not knowing, that is, for our lack of knowledge about a phenomena or, in some cases, an account of the practices that resulted in a group unlearning what was once a realm of knowledge. In other words, those who would strive to understand how we know must also develop epistemologies of ignorance.”

Dr. Tuana has several poignant scholarly publications about the epistemology of ignorance, especially regarding women’s treatment throughout human history. I will be diving into and swimming in her research and philosophies later in Part II of this series.

Perhaps for now it is best to start with general taxonomies of ignorance (the horse) before diving into the depths of the key agents of modern ignorance I personally want to cover in later parts (the cart).

General Classifications of Ignorance

Native or Innocent State is the first class and it defines ignorance that is a deficit to overcome, or something to grow out of, as a naive child would eventually learn that getting 8-hours of sleep per day is actually beneficial in the long-term, or that lying necessarily leads to more lying.

Time and Mental Constraints is the next class. We cannot possibly study and understand all things. We must leave some alone, select what subjects deserve our needs and attention. As a result, this form of ignorance is a product of inattention and can be lost for a period of time or forever.

Moral-Exemplary Caution is the third class and it includes ignorance for the sake of survival, protections, or mental, physical, and emotional stability. For example, jurors in court for a criminal case are strongly urged to remain ignorant (unbiased) to publicized facts, rumors, opinions, or news stories about their case. The various cinema movie-ratings by the Motion Picture Association of America currently have five designations for films suited to particular age groups. Which uranium and plutonium combinations are highly classified so as not to fall into the wrong unethical hands. And certain forms of torture on prisoners have specific classifications.

Strategic Subterfuge is the last classification of ignorance and the hardest to detect in real-time. Two prime examples of strategic subterfuge would be the World War II Allied Manhattan Project from 1942-46 and Operation Fortitude/Bodyguard in 1943-44, both highly successful webs of deception that shortened the war with Germany and Japan.

There are times and conditions that do warrant ignorance — it is not always bad. And yet, these four classes of ignorance give rise to other important questions. For instance:  Are there other sorts of events/conditions that ignorance creates which we might be unaware? When and how does knowledge create ignorance? What other forms of resistance, tradition, inattention, apathy, calculation, or distraction creates more ignorance? When does ignorance generate confidence, timidity, or arrogance, even megalomania? Because of ignorance what patterns of competence or disability are thereby brought into existence?

I hope to answer some of these questions, but I will also leave it to you my readers to answer some yourselves.

Bias and Concealment

One of the most catastrophic probabilities facing humanity is climate change. In few other global crises has there been more profound, proliferated bias and concealment than on climate change.

They are the world’s most distinguished minds of geophysics, meteorology, atmospheric science, geography, and other disciplines and they comprise the IPCC. Their studies and publications encompass the work of over 800 scientists and over 1,000 peer-reviewers from 130 nations around the world. Inside the U.S. the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have all ratified their findings. Abroad, the National Academies of Sciences in Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and three others also verified and confirmed the IPCC’s findings. See consensus image below.

IPCC Abstract

Despite the fact that worldwide theory, evidence, and consensus support the claim that anthropogenic global warming is underway, there is a remarkably high number of doubters, particularly in the U.S., that believe these reports are inaccurate, acts of worldwide(?) political-economic conspiracy, or completely fabricated. How is this possible? Six reasons, says Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes.

The Six Main Cold War Contenders

It could be convincingly argued that there are only two or three main contenders against climate change science, but Conway and Oreskes reveal all major contenders and their interconnected allies during the Cold War, an era of mega-business and even bigger deep-pocketed business moguls. Would you consider these six listed below having direct and indirect mutual interests?

The George C. Marshall Institute — was founded by Robert Jastrow, Frederick Seitz, and William Nierenberg. The institute’s influence and popularity on post-war policy, Congress, and public opinion cannot be overstated. It was originally formed to streamline national security and defense policies in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Its public mission statement at the time was “to encourage the use of sound science in making public policy about important issues for which science and technology are major considerations.” However, after the end of the Cold War the institute turned its attention to environmental issues receiving major funding from oil and gas corporations like Exxon-Mobil, at least $715,000 between 1998 and 2008. In 2001 after only 5-months as executive director, Matthew B. Crawford resigned explaining “[the Institute] is fonder of some facts than others.

SDI_TimeMagazine

April 1983 issue

Robert Jastrow — a planetary physicist and lead scientist with NASA, Jastrow, along with Seitz, Nierenberg, and Siegfried Fred Singer, together headed all major skepticism to climate change and other health and environmental crises between 1982 to the 2000’s. How these four scientists are closely connected will be covered below.

Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) — SDI was a proposed missle-defense “shield” with orbiting space-lasers presented in March 1983 by President Ronald Reagan. When 6,500 academic scientists unionized to not accept or solicit any government funds for the program, Robert Jastrow was so furious that he rallied several well-known scientists of specific fields within the Defense Department and the military-scientific community to combat SDI opposition via the George C. Marshall Institute. He would also accuse the Union of Concerned Scientists, a big challenger to SDI, of being agents for Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviets.

Big Tobacco — Fortune 100 tobacco corporations like R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (aka Nabisco Group Holdings) spent $45-million between 1979 and 1989 toward finding and publishing evidence or arguments casting doubts about cancer, heart disease, and other smoking-related adverse effects, cases and deaths with their supporting research and publications. The principle advisor for these doubt-publications:  the aforementioned Frederick Seitz.

Acid Rain — is contaminated rainfall from sulfate emissions from power-plants and nitrous emissions from auto exhausts. In 1970, 1977, and 1990 emission standards legislation addressed and updated this growing atmospheric contaminants begun by the Clean Air Act of 1963. Just these measures, from the already established scientific studies and results, took as they say, acts of Congress, over a 50-year period to be adopted! Oh, and the aforementioned S. Fred Singer and Reagan’s White House stalled reports from OSTP, the Office of Science and Technology Acid Rain Panel in which Singer served.

Chlorinated Fluorocarbons (CFCs) — sulfate emissions and nitrous emissions soon lead to higher public awareness of refrigerators, AC units, hair spray, and other various stratospheric contaminants which deplete the ozone layer, known as CFC’s. In 1995 Sherwood Rowland, Mario Molina, and Paul Crutzen won Nobel Prizes for their contributions in Chemistry identifying the damaging effects of CFC’s to the ozone layer. The twice aforementioned S. Fred Singer argued against these men and afterwards even to Congress opposing their findings!

The Impact of These Tactics

During the 1992 mid-term elections, Republican pollster and media advisor Frank Luntz sent out a memo instructing federal Republican candidates to implement the political counter-strategy of scientific uncertainty:

“The scientific debate remains open.

…you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”
“The Luntz Research Companies – Straight Talk”, p. 137, http://www2.bc.edu/~plater/Newpublicsite06/suppmats/02.6.pdf – See also Mooney, The Republican War

A 2007 Gallup poll showed that 60% of Americans believed global warming was happening, which meant too that 40% felt there was still “a lot of disagreement among scientists.” Yet, in fact by 1979 — 28-years earlier! — scientists around the globe were increasingly unanimous that what Charles David Keeling had proven about rising CO² in the 1960’s was increasing more in the ’70s. Surveys of the scientific literature worldwide from 1965 to 1979 found only 7 articles predicting cooling and 44 predicting warming. What is also strangely peculiar is that the bulk of the scientific work was done in the U.S. As of March 2016 little has changed in the public eye at only 64% believing it is happening. Why the snail’s pace? No surprise, it isn’t a quick easy answer, but there are two major contributing factors:  1) the IPCC with the Kyoto Treaty (and Doha Treaty) and 2) the Republican-held U.S. Senate ten out of the twelve relevant years concerning the 1997 Byrd-Hagel Resolution (S. Res. 98).

US_Senate_floorSince 1990 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) along with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and their scientists from 191 member nations and territories, found irrefutable cumulative evidence of global warming. In 1997 a protocol for fighting global warming and reducing greenhouse gas concentrations, the Kyoto Protocol, was adopted in Kyoto, Japan based on the consensus of these scientists around the world and how to reduce and reverse the effects of human-sourced causes. Sadly, the U.S. Senate voted on July 25, 1997 (95 to 0) rejecting this protocol if it did not impose firm emissions limits on the developing nations like India or the People’s Republic of China, both major sources of carbon dioxide emissions along with the United States. This S. Resolution 98 effectively shut-down the Kyoto Treaty before President Clinton could have an opportunity to push for ratification. As of today, the U.S. is the only major industrialized nation refusing participation in the Kyoto and Doha agreements.

After many articles in Business Investor’s Weekly, Forbes Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal S. Fred Singer continually challenged the work of these scientists around the world including those winning the Nobel Prize, others did so as well, mimicking Singer such as political scientist Bjørn Lomborg. Four renown scientists countered Singer and Lomborg with their publication “Misleading Math About the Earth” in January 2002. John Bongaarts, John Holdren, Thomas Lovejoy, and Stephen Schneider demonstrated that the majority of Lomborg’s citations were not from reputable scientific sources, but media-entertainment articles and non-scientific publications. But the damage and impact of the media onslaught had been done. Time Magazine named Lomborg one of the most influential thinkers of 2004.

The Cold War “old guard,” the market fundamentalists, the paranoid contrarians like Singer, Jastrow, Seitz, and Nierenberg saw any challenge or questioning of America’s proud free-market system as anti-capitalist, pro-communist, pro-socialist, and pro-regulatory on suffocating scales! Thus, without the broader information of evidence, data, and pure science from all points, favorable and oppositional, too many doubts were biasedly cast about the science and scientists. Capitalism triumphed over Soviet communism, but now it has to rectify its own excessive waste and impact on the ecosystems. Leave it to the mega-corporations of the world and it goes unchanged and buried. Though unfettered sourcing of our planet’s fossil-fuels was our “free lunch,” our Industrial Revolution, and our two World Wars, followed by the prosperity of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, global warming is now the rising bankrupting unreckoned invoice. The accumulated interest, charges, and principle-balance could have and should have been confronted and corrected during the last 50+ years. Instead, warehouses of well-funded doubt and unknowledging were produced in its place.

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In Part II of Games of Unknowledging, I will delve into the widely used, but less known exercises of Manufactured Uncertainty, some Women’s Rights and Equality (or non-rights and inequality), and the lost worlds and knowledge of Abortifacients. I do hope you’ll return for it.

Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Abundance Without

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What do you think of when you read Abundance Without?  What do you crave most to be abundant in your life?

For me it is anything and everything that I know and have yet to know that will push all five senses to new and strange realms where my soul is overwhelmed.  Music, or hearing, or rhythm of life or vibration of someone is for me one of those mediums to another world.  Follow me for a bit….every word and suggestion.

Press play, close your eyes and let the strings on his guitar, the rhythm and beat take over your pulse.  Keep listening to it as you read the entire post.  Let your soul move with all the instruments:

Let’s travel with some other senses; let’s stir them…bring them more alive.

Taste.  A favorite wine of mine that I have recently discovered is from an Australian vineyard called Jacob’s Creek.  I have found that I am very drawn to the bold earthy oak tones of Australian and New Zealand wines.  In 2010 and 2011, poor seasons of Cabernet and Shiraz grapes limited the two wines.  From the lack of an abundant harvest came one of their most superb blends:  the Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon.  When I have it in my mouth, I do not want to swallow…..EVER!

Smell.  Jasmine.  This spring our jasmine vines bloomed so brilliantly that with every breeze over our hilltop brought across the lawn and patio, through open windows, the sweet hypnotic aroma of jasmine.  I wanted to bathe my nose and body in every vine.  I was high on sweet jasmine all spring.

Sight.  Here are a few of my favorites:

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Touch.  Silk and leather.  A feather followed by cold chain-links.  Soft wet sand in your toes on the beach.  Wearing a thin soft terry-cloth shirt.  The legs of a Monarch butterfly walking over your arm, or agave nectar running down your chin.  The touch of a thin Chinese acupuncture needle.  An unexpected long warm breath on the neck and shoulder.

Now imagine not having one of these senses.

A long time ago I was taught a life-lesson.  You cannot fully know the heights of joy until you’ve known the full depths of despair.  You cannot fully know the heat of love until you’ve known the cold pains of longing.  And one of my favorite bloggers, Tracy Fulks, recently wrote about the same concept:  You can’t keep it, until you give it away!

Ever understood why people who have had a near-death experience are forever changed?  They find even the smallest things in life utterly beautiful and powerful.  Why?  Because they’ve tasted the edge of death.  Some become the most prolific advocates for survival, disease-prevention or awareness, or hyper-awakened psychic abilities.  The human body is the most remarkable healing, adapting, and evolving organism on this planet.  When a person loses their sight, the other four senses become much more acute.  Lose your ability to smell and taste becomes more acute.

Sensory deprivation is not all bad.  In many cases it is the path to a deeper spirituality, a deeper appreciation and kindness for a more whole life, soul, and belonging.  In Buddhism it is called nirvana and the attainment of it is life changing.  Ever wonder why we have adrenaline?  And adrenaline is just one chemical neurotransmitter in our bodies.  When journalists ask combat veterans why, for the sake of sanity, would they sign up to be redeployed.  Almost all of them answer “to be among my brothers in life and death.”  Those extreme experiences bind those men-at-arms together for life as close as a mother to her newborn…or tighter.

I am not saying go throw yourself into a combat zone.  Life (fully lived) is sacred.  But what I am suggesting is that most of the hang-ups or fears we peace-living people have are illusions of mythical monsters.  The commercial material things that consume our (American) lives, the daily bombardment of corporate marketing which pelts us in every possible way, the energy consumed to obtain those things we are tricked into thinking we must have are cluttering the true purpose and meaning of experience.  One must soon ask… is a mellow, laid-back, blissful, peaceful, opulent, pain-free life really what our 75-95 years on Earth is about?

All the “things” we (Americans) think we need really doesn’t provide a complete more fulfilled life.  Yes, our hard-earned money and exhausted energy for a paycheck DOES provide the upper 10 percent, and more so élite 1 percent, an extremely posh lifestyle – more than they and their next 3 generations could ever need.  But what does all that toil really do for our emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual well-being?

Here is one result of a growing disorder in America:  gluttony…on several levels.  It is too much of what we don’t need.

“At seven billion plus, the global population isn’t the only thing expanding; our waistlines are too.  A team of U.K. scientists calculated that the people of Earth are now 3.9 million tons overweight.  Russia and Egypt are among the top contributors.  So is Mexico, which represents just a sliver of the world population.  Who’s carrying around the most excess fat?  Americans.  Indeed, if all countries mimicked the U.S., the collective hike in world-wide heft would equal the weight of another billion people.”Catherine Zuckerman of the March 2013 National Geographic Magazine

Weight of World graphThe higher the price of a home and its possessions, the higher the cost to insure it and protect it.  But rest assured, banks and finance companies won’t ever tell you that.  The higher the price and sophistication of an automobile (which puts carbon dioxide into our green-housing atmosphere) or automobileS in the case of two, three, or four-car families, the higher the price to maintain them, repair them, and insure them.  But rest assured, auto-makers and dealerships won’t ever tell you that.

The following slide show conveys the different homes and possessions of five different families from five various nations of economic wealth:

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The more time parents, brothers, sisters, or friends spend collecting inanimate objects or the latest high-tech gadgets, the less time and energy that is spent raising healthy well-balanced children, or making closer family ties, or as adults learning the necessary social skills to better succeed in an ever-evolving more DIVERSE and challenging world.  The American corporate-driven consumer-materialistic mentality and generated motivation consequently nurtures a higher crime rate, homicide or suicide rate, higher court costs, higher legislation, and ever-expanding overpopulated prisons which also leads to a more fractured society of inequality.

Should I go on?  I could but I won’t.

My purpose in sharing where real experience can be found and where intense living really exists…is already within each of us and WITH each other.  It is not in a solitude-self cluttered by material things sucking up our valuable time and energy.  It is not in a life lacking diverse changing human interaction on ALL levels of experience.  It is within the many intense relationships we build with others – similar to  combat veterans and the bonds they share with their brothers in arms – igniting ALL five of the senses.  It is denying one to acutely enhance others, eventually overwhelming our soul, filling it, overflowing, and soaking it.

Challenging our internal emotions will conjure an expansion of sharpened feelings and adrenaline as well as strength.  A favorite example of this challenge is a scene from one of my all-time favorite movies, Out of Africa.  On a personal intimate level it reveals wonderfully the concept of abundance without; the surrender to mortality to have more life, embracing the practice of allowing and giving to gain unconditional acceptance and receiving.  Or You can’t keep it, until you give it away as Tracy puts it so eloquently.  Try to grasp what Denys Hatton (Robert Redford) is really saying.

I was unable to find this scene on Youtube so click here (at AnyClip.com) to watch the first scene, then watch the later scene below.

“I don’t want to find out one day that I’m at the end of someone else’s life.”  What a profound truth of conformity or self-enslavement.

Not having something (temporarily?) can be just as abundant as having it.  At the very least, when it returns, if it returns, your love for it, your gratitude for it, your appreciation, understanding, fondness, worship of it and all things meaningful…make it abundant in ways you hadn’t experienced otherwise.

What have you suffered for or denied that later unexpectedly came back in ways you thought unimaginable, dearer, and intensely sweeter?

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Related posts:
The Curious Perplexity of Attachment
The Love Within and Beyond

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Unveiling Incentive-Opportunity Fallacies

[This post is a continuation of the article-blog Productive Inequality]

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As I watched one night the 6-part series “The Men Who Built America” on the History Channel, I kept saying to myself What has changed  in our socio-economic America today?  The answer is a lot…and not much.  Watch the two following video clips in order:

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Resting on Star-Spangled Laurels

Ask most Americans on the streets today who Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and Henry Ford were and what they meant to America and you will get a variety of answers – although many could describe briefly some connection to Ford Motor Company, Chase Morgan, and Carnegie Hall in New York City.  Beyond those mutterings, the depth and accuracy might be in question.  However, ask the same question to Donald Trump, Jerry Jones, the Waltons of Walmart, Bill Gates, or Sumner Redstone and they will give you a hyper-patriotic narrative of how these progenitors founded and built the greatest economic nation in the world.  In the annals of Western capitalism, Carnegie, Ford, Morgan, Rockefeller, and Vanderbilt are the founding demigods.

John D. Rockefeller, 1888

John D. Rockefeller, 1888

By the age of retirement all five of these 19th century business-moguls’ fortunes made up anywhere between 1-3% of America’s GDP by a single person.  Those five net worth’s have been adjusted for today’s 2000 dollars, but the amounts are incomprehensibly staggering.  Vanderbilt’s estimate:  $140 – $180 billion dollars.  Rockefeller’s estimate:  $392 – $663 billion dollars.  Carnegie’s estimate:  almost $300 billion.  Ford’s estimate:  $188 billion.  Morgan’s final net worth was divided between several holdings but his estate was estimated to be worth about $68 million at death.  If 1-3% of the economy of America – one of the world’s richest nations – consisted of five men, then that is perhaps the truest definition of oligarchy not democracy.  J.P. Morgan’s wealth was so vast that during the economic panic of 1893, President Grover Cleveland borrowed from him in order to restore the nation’s treasury.

How was it possible for a handful of entrepreneurs to accumulate such epic wealth during sixteen national recessions (1865 to 1933) as well as the Great Depression of 1929?  I will attempt to answer this question simply.

Do not mistake this web blog as promoting Karl Marx or Vladimir Lenin economics.  There is nothing inherently wrong with making and earning money for quality work.  What is under question, however, is how efficiently and fairly that economy — which provides the wealth — is working as a whole and perpetuating itself.  Despite the great success of these five American entrepreneurs, the “machine” from which they profited broke-down sixteen times.  Those failures in a long line of many failures as recently as 2008, are what is in question.  Why does our “strongest nation in the world” economy and government keep failing?

I am a lifetime sports fan.  One way to answer the question is to use a sports analogy.  Pick your favorite sports team, the team you grew up watching with family or friends.  The team’s performance should elicit some level of passion inside.  You’ve always wanted them to perform well, maybe even win several championships.  When your team is playing say in the playoffs, do you feel that referees or umpires are necessary?  Why are they necessary?  No fans, or for that matter no team players or coaches on the competing rosters cheer for the referees or umpires.  Why is that?  We like them when they punish or discipline our opponent, but we dislike them when they punish or discipline our favorite team.  Why are the referees and umpires needed for the games?

From a biased point-of-view the answer is obvious:  we want them there so that our opponents won’t cheat or win the game unfairly.  But from an objective standpoint, we need them there to ensure a “fair or level playing field” for both teams, correct?  Imagine what the games would be like if there were no referees or umpires.  Cheating, even intentional maiming would no doubt take place.  Whether we like referees and umpires or not, we need them so the games can be won or lost fairly.  Well, in economics and social policy the government is no different:  we need a strong government to ensure that the game of economics and social policy are fairly played.

During the era of Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, and Ford there were weak referees or umpires, and in several cases no referees or umpires at all.  Even though the United States grew into the most powerfully economic and productive nation on the globe after 1870, doing it inside an unrestrained ungoverned free-market economy it eventually led to the worst economic and social collapse in modern history:  the Great Depression and two world wars.  Is that performance really deserving of grande boasting and fan-fare?  Resting on the laurels of post-1870 Wild West growth is at the same time condoning unfettered greedy oligarchists and market manipulation.  Domestic and global economics today are much more complex and dynamic than antiquated 19th and 20th century philosophies can manage and diluting the power of the referees and umpires (i.e. our government) is a sure way of returning to another Great Depression.

Let’s look more closely at what outdated economic systems, still pushed today by some American parties, nurture over several generations.

Fallacies of Incentive-Opportunity Economics

REAGANMONEYSPEECH2Some political parties and economists today swear by and blow their Reaganomics bugle, or trickle-down economics as the best economic system.  Another more modern name for this system is incentive economics.  Within this philosophy its adherents proclaim that inequality is a natural product of its efficiency:  some will produce more than others.  Proponents of incentive economics (primarily those from the political right) argue that if programs and policies redistribute wealth, then it will deconstruct incentives and motivation toward efficiency.  They also argue that if we focus too much on disparity of outcomes, i.e. a growing gap between socio-economic classes, especially over one year or a four-year presidential administration, then the public is missing the bigger better picture.  What is more important, they proclaim, is only lifetime inequality and how much more opportunity is created.  In other words, there is a natural trade-off of the-haves and the-have-nots based on efficiency as if it is “natural selection” of the strongest over the weakest or genius over ignorance.  They add that private wealth created by opportunity and perfect competitive economies will soon feed or trickle-down into social returns for the less fortunate.  But for the last four to five decades this simply hasn’t been the case.

Remember the definition of rent-seeking from the earlier post Productive Inequality?  It said when a company, organization, or individual uses their resources to obtain economic gain from others without reciprocating any benefits back to society through wealth creation…this is called rent-seeking.  For the last several decades declining public investment, declining support for public education, distortions of the true health of our economy, declining worker morale and labor fairness, have all contributed to a widened gap between the top 1% and 10% from the middle and bottom economic percentile.  Redistributing wealth and opportunities would reduce inequality and increase efficiency, the exact opposite of what the Right contends.

Both the lack of wealth and minimization of risk available to the lower 99% – 90% are two major market failures of our capital economy.  Consequently, this lays the burden of upward economic mobility on parental wealth; in other words, what their parents can or cannot provide through digressing public education and their work income.  And too often in the lower economic third both parents are working for wages that hardly keep up with inflation.  The Right consistently underestimates these failures.

Stronger or weaker team?

Stronger or weaker team?

The Right also consistently overestimates the benefits of incentive pay.  Before revealing the true risks of incentive pay, what does the term mean?  Barron’s Business Dictionary states it is a wage system that rewards a worker for productivity above an established standard and within a defined time period.  It is often called pay for performance.  Many incentive pay schemes are used by corporations each with varying success rates, or resulting in higher worker productivity.  However, history has repeatedly shown that the schemes can also come with many counterproductive results.  Take for instance the program at Hewlett-Packard in the 1990s (click here for the CBS News article).  After setting up pay-for-performance schemes across thirteen or more American production sites, most of the HP worker-teams outperformed management’s projections costing the corporation excessive payouts.  As a result, HP management made the goals higher and harder to achieve.  This move had the exact opposite effect.  Teamwork within the nationwide teams declined, primarily because self-interest dominated over corporate gains.  Why do you think this happened?

Another example of failed incentive pay schemes but using instead a disciplinary fine, or negative reinforcement, to stimulate better results as told by Joseph Stiglitz:

“…a cooperative day center had a problem with certain parents’ picking up their children in a timely way.  It decided to impose a charge, to provide an incentive for them to do so.  But many parents, including those who had occasionally been late, had struggled to pick up their children on time; they did as well as they did because of the social pressure, the desire to do “the right thing,” even if they were less than fully successful.  But charging a fee converted a social obligation [teamwork] into a monetary transaction.  Parents no longer felt a social responsibility, but assessed whether the benefits of being late were greater or less than the fine.  Lateness increased.”

This begs the question, why is an extrinsic monetary reward scheme imperfect?  Because it is human nature to be socially connected; it is a primal instinct…for most, and in the end it often outweighs individual, secluding self-interest.  What is the point of an opulent palace with opulent toys on a grossly opulent island, if there is no one at all to enjoy it with?  Stiglitz goes on to write:

“The reason that [incentive pay] economic theory failed to gauge accurately the effectiveness of team incentives is that it underestimated the importance of personal connectiveness.  Individuals work hard to please others in their team – and because they believe it is the right thing to do.  Economists overestimate, too, the selfishness of individuals (though there is considerable evidence that economists are more selfish than others, and that economics training does make individuals more selfish over time) [particularly when resources, opportunities, and rewards are scarce/hoarded; ala the 2012 film The Hunger Games].  It is thus perhaps not surprising that firms owned by their workers – and who therefore share in the profits – have performed better in the crisis and laid off fewer employees.”

All four must be equally balanced

All four must be equally balanced

Many incentive pay schemes will never be able to fully ignite the best of human-worker performance because often monetary rewards, extrinsic gains, fall short of a greater good.  Why?  Because all four types of human motivation (table on right) must be as closely balanced as possible for a person to be peacefully satisfied.  This is just as true in economic and political laws and policies.

As a result of the Right’s shortsightedness, i.e. underestimating the real costs of socio-economic inequality and overestimating the costs of fixing it through progressive taxation and public spending, America needlessly spins its congressional and executive wheels in gridlocked hyper-partisanship  eventually invoicing her 90 percentile taxpayers.  President Reagan pushed for a less progressive tax system, lowering taxes on the top 1 and 10 percent, claiming that would raise more funds due to increased saving and worker productivity.  He was incorrect:  tax revenues plummeted.  H.W. Bush’s cuts had the same effect:  an increased deficit.  During President Clinton’s administration, taxes were raised on the top percentile and the United States enjoyed a brief time of rapid growth and a minor decrease in economic inequality.  Then George W. Bush entered office and…well, we had the 2008 financial crisis in which the majority of Americans, indeed the lower poorer classes, are still suffering.  Naturally, the Right contends that if the marginal Americans paid 100% of their taxes, then “incentives” for the public would be harmfully weakened.  But this claim is really nothing more than crying wolf.  Stiglitz points out:

“…University of California professor Emmanuel Saez, Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics, and Stefanie Stantcheva of the MIT Department of Economics, carefully taking into account the incentive effects of higher taxation and the societal benefits of reducing inequality, have estimated that the tax rate at the top should be around 70 percent – what it was before President Reagan started his campaign for the rich.”

What many on the Right fail to recognize in their economic, social, and political theories and/or systems is that no one succeeds on their own.  They fail to recognize that a more level playing field, a more fair game if you will, almost always produces more efficiency, more brilliance, and a higher quality of life for a greater number, which in turn nurtures itself.  A healthier “team” is a more productive successful team; and when these healthy teams are playing other healthy teams on a fair game-field with strong powerful referees or umpires, the “game”…the economy is brilliant!  Therefore in return, the players, the coaches, the fans, everyone benefits and is more motivated to excellence.

On the other hand, an economic theory/system of scarcity and hoarding, i.e. weak public spending and regressive taxation for the strong/resourceful, is actually the antithesis of motivation-for-excellence; it too often maligns individual behavior to succeed-at-all-costs.  Survival-of-the-Fittest economics does not encourage unity, particularly in times of severe crisis, and does not encourage real democracy.  Thank the good stars that most human beings need MORE than just extrinsic rewards and require equally intrinsic rewards, if not more.  But oh dear, that would mean less egocentrism, less arrogance, less consumption, and more community, more intimate connectivity, more humbleness, and a more permeable comfort zone to name a few life-changes.  I feel there are many who are simply terrified of this idea, unfortunately, but I can hope.

Retrieving the American Dream

Joseph Stiglitz and those economists inside his camp have several profound ideas, policies, and reformations that will return America to its former collective glory.  To share these here would extend this blog series by two or three more; a length I have no time to carry out and likely readers and visitors here will have no patience with.  Hence, I will only recommend strongly that everyone purchase The Price of Inequality and read it, study it, and digest it.  If you wish to better understand what has happened and will continue to happen to our American economy and social classes, and avoid being a naïve puppet in a oligarchial corporate capitalist show in a failing free-market economy, then it is a must read!

class_saying_pledgeHere is the pressing question:  Is the American dream still alive?  Is the American dream still available?  More importantly, is the American dream available to all as our “pledge of allegiance” implies?  The present fifth version, which Congress passed in 1954, states in the last half “…one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  How accurately does this pledge reflect America today?  How does one measure its accuracy?

Surprisingly perhaps to most, measuring America’s success of “…with liberty and justice for all” is quite easy.  In modern statistical tables, polls, experiments, or graphs all mathematicians will say that the greater the data collected, the more accurate the results.  Take for example a simple school student-poll on say thermostat comfort of the buildings.  Of a student body of 700 students, would the pollers achieve an accurate reflection of their student body if they obtained 150 student opinions?  Of course not; a poll of exactly 700 students would be the most accurate.  This statistical truth is always the case whether one is measuring ten people or elements, or whether measuring 314 million.

This statistical truth therefore applies to larger numbers or polls, like the world (see earlier post The Land of Opportunity? for a comprehensive indicator of America’s global standing).  In order to get a truly accurate and objective reflection, we must include the rest of similar industrialized nations, and to be most accurate all other non-industrialized nations.  But this raises more complex dynamics that in some cases go beyond economic, social, and political elements I have covered in this series of three web-blogs.  Fortunately, this formula…this gauge of happiness, justice, and liberty for all is not exclusively owned by one person, one group, or even one nation.  It is collective and shared.  The discouraging reality is that on the American horizon – and maybe the world horizon too – this Collective Goodness Gauge, if you will, is constantly threatened.  My next and last web-blog in this series, A Collective Imperative, will examine these threats and how to fight its extinction.

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