The Complex Calculus of the Permanent Unemployment Crisis: Players, Causes and Consequences

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 17 Dec 2012

Anthony Marsella, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

“Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct  recruiting by the Government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing great – greatly needed projects to stimulate and  reorganize the use of our great natural resources…. And finally, in our progress towards a resumption of work, we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order. There must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments. There must be an end to speculation with other people’s money. And there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency. These, my friends, are the lines of attack.”  – Franklin  Delano Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933.

(Source: (December 5, 2012 informationclearinghouse.ccsend.com)

The “Crisis:” A Permanent Condition

I believe the current “unemployment crisis” is going to be a permanent condition. I say this because as President Franklin D. Roosevelt warned in 1933, we are failing to guard against the return of “the evils of the old order.”
As I listen to explanations, solutions, and promises from “experts,” economists, financiers, social commentators, politicians, and also lived experiences of the unemployed, underemployed, and hopelessly unemployed, I have become convinced the complex calculus of players, causes and consequences cannot lead to a resolution – a revolution, perhaps, but not a resolution. One of the best analyses of the players, causes, and consequences was written recently by Steven Fraser, co-founder of the American Empire Project (2012). I will quote his words in alter sections.

At this point in time, I find no optimism or hope in daily commentaries. All seem to be repeating tired, worn, and simplistic proposals that claim the sources of the crisis, and its resolution reside in a few — important — but insufficient variables (e.g., reduce the national debt; increase government spending; develop American manufacturing levels; promote competition at very level, raise/cut taxes). I now find myself asking: (1) what are their definitions of “unemployment” and “employment,” (2) who is speaking, (3) what is their purpose or agenda, (4) what is their credibility, (5) how have they reached their conclusions, (5) are they engaging in intentional obfuscation, and (6) do they understand the different between employment and “work.”?

My pessimism grows as I witness the tragic ironies of the crisis, since some are benefitting from the condition as: (1) stock markets rise with the continuing release of “paper” dollars by the Federal Reserve; (2) corporate America trims payrolls, reduces pension debt, cut production costs, and build paper money portfolios via investments; (3) salaries for corporate levels executives rise as they ask for reductions in social programs, (4) the control of the economy remains in the hands of vested special interest groups (e.g., US and foreign banks, insurance companies, carbon energy industries, military/industrial companies), and (5) wealth remains concentrated among the very wealthy. A recent post by Burchett (2012) describes the aspects of the wealth concentration problem:

Corporate executives and financial employees make up just one-half of 1% of the workforce, but with nearly a trillion dollars of annual income (11.3% of $8.12 trillion), they make more than ALL 15 million unionized workers in the United States, and almost as much as ALL 21 million government workers. Much of their income derives from minimally-taxed capital gains. Meanwhile, the great majority of their private company employees toil as food servers, clerks, medical workers, and domestic help at below-average pay. (Paul Burchett – November 26, 2012 Private, Public, Union, or Management Who Takes All the Money NationofChange

Complexities of the “Crisis”

After listening, reading, and reflecting, I have come to the following conclusions:

1. The actual percentage of unemployed is far greater than announced figures claim because it does not include those who have given up looking for employment after years of unemployment;

2. The causes of unemployment are complex, interactive, and have historic and current causes;

3. Solutions to unemployment must include immediate, short-term, and long-term policies and practices;

4. There are serious financial, political, and ideological conflicts within and across government, business, and international interests regarding unemployment/employment;

5. The growing disappearance and powerlessness of unions (e.g., union-busting, non-union shops) will keep wages at low levels, hinder worker protection, and destroy pensions and retirement plans;

6. It is unlikely employment rates and conditions will ever reach acceptable levels because our “global era” is presenting an endless series of challenges at local, domestic, national, and international levels;

7. There is a prevailing win-lose mentality between and among the different worlds (developed, developing, underdeveloped poor) that will lead to constant conflict

8. Current local, national, and international responses to the unemployment crisis are often inadequate, inept, and limited;

9. Events, forces, and personalities are producing uncertainties that interfere with solutions (e.g., protests, insurgencies, terrorism, civil unrest, low intensity wars, international conflicts and wars);

10. The responses to the uncertainties (i.e., fear, anxiety, distrust, anger) have encouraged and facilitated the development of national security state policies and practices to control populations. The include massive and widespread civil surveillance, monitoring, archiving, and associated behavioral, neuro, and information technologies that use a spectrum of proximate and distal methods forcing funds for economic growth into “defense” industries (e.g., security, military), while limiting development in other employment areas.

11. Our economy he economy is based on unbridled “consumerism.” We must consume goods, services, and endless products for our economy to work. It is based on citizens “buying,” things they need and things they don’t need, but are taught to “want.” Unbridled consumerism has the serious consequence of pushing us to extremes of resource exploitation and abuse (e.g., fracking), while keeping us anchored in endless materialism, commodification, and greed. Can our nation — the world — sustain an economy built on endless consumerism? What do we need to do to build societies that promote survival, sustainability, quality-of-life, and a meaningful existence.

12. In an excellent article that appeared in The Atlantic (Davidson, February, 2012), entitled “Making it in America,” closes with poignant words:

This may be the worst impact og the disappearance of manufacturing work. In older factories, and before them, on the farms, there were opportunities for almost everybody; the bright and the slow, the sociable and the awkward, the people with children, and those without. All came to work unskilled , at first, and then slowly learned things on the job that made them more valuable. Especially in the mid-20thcentury, as manufacturing employment was rocketing toward its zenith, mistakes and disadvantages in childhood and adolescence did not foreclose adult opportunity Davidson, 2012, p. 70.

More Realistic Estimates of Rates

What we are being told by state and national officials is that the current unemployment rates are around 8%-9%, give or take some decimals. But as some critics have pointed out time and time again, the actual rates of unemployment are more likely in double digits if those who have (1) given up seeking work, (2) the chronically unemployed, and (3) seasonal and short-term hires, are included in the figures. Holiday hires inflate employment. Of course, this is good for statistics, but does it distort the problem’s existence. Further, if we include individuals employed beneath their educational and skill levels, the unemployment crisis not only increases, but, assumes tragic psychological proportions as despair mounts, hopes recede, and dreams collapse. This is proving to be true for the middle-aged worker whose job/position once eliminated poses difficulties in rehiring in a similar position with similar wages.

Are my conclusions unwarranted? I think not. At the risk of being labeled a Cassandra or a voice “crying in the wilderness,” I believe the global era of our times, replete with its (1) concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a limited number of individuals and organizations, (2) extensive level of personal and collective interdependency, (3) borderless flow of information and wealth, and (4) rapid and unlimited technological changes eluding our understanding and mastery, poses a serious challenge to recovery and “acceptable” levels of employment.

I am reminded here This concentration of wealth and influence revives the abuses of the past when “Guilded Age” robber barons believed in “social Darwinism,” “survival of the fittest” (i.e., richest) and denied their social responsibilities and obligations to workers and to society (e.g., Griffin, 1994/2011). Although the original advocates are long gone, the influence of “social Darwinism” remains. I do not wish to demonize the very wealthy, but merely to have them consider their responsibilities to humanity and the world — this means wealth distribution

Widespread Explanations

The following is a list of some of the time-worn causes I have heard advanced regarding unemployment crisis: (1) outsourcing to foreign or cheaper domestic labor employers, (2) use of temporary and short-term hires, (3) use of part-time workers, (4) union busting, (5) free trade, (6) loss of a manufacturing base, (8) failure to develop innovative products and services, (9) failure of corporations and small businesses to invest in long-term hires, (10) commodity markets fluctuations and resource shortages, (11), currency and interests manipulations (i.e., LIBOR, currency value), (12) the rise of competitive nations (e.g., Brazil, China, India, South Korea), (13) high-tech knowledge and skill sets are required and many workers do not possess these skills, and (14) reducing the number of long-term employees permits owners to reduce pension and health costs, (15) the national debt in excess of 16 trillions dollars.

The complexity of players is also imporrant. Some of the many “players” involved, each with their own agendas and interests: (1) specific wealthy individuals (e.g., mega multi-billionaire investors and owners), (2) international organizations (e.g., World Bank, IMF, UN), major institutional sectors (e.g., banks, insurance, energy), (3) multinational corporations with no national loyalties, and (4) nations and national populations (e.g. Germany, Greece, UK), (5) the employed, unemployed, underemployed, (6) government partisan political interests, (7) powerful military interests, (8) Unions, (9) powerful factions (e.g., DAVOS, Bilderburgs), (10) Powerful industries (e.g. plastics, pharmacology, automobile), (11) philanthropies and foundations (e.g., Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie). Begin entering the causes and the players in an equation, and what is apparent is the complexities of the problem and the solutions. Already we can see appeals to nationalism, patriotism, competition, isolationism, xenophobia, and militaristic adventurism, protectionism, export/import conflicts, regional trade/defense pacts. Figure 1 displays the situation graphically.

THE COMPLEX CALCULUS

All nations pursue their own interests. But in a global era, this type of thinking is anachronistic. The economy of the USA is a powerful driver for the world, but it cannot seize and maintain hegemony without consequences. Some of the causes are listed below and presented graphically in Figure 2:

  1. Global and National Population Demographics

The population of the United States and the world is increasing, and our economy cannot accommodate to the specifics demographic changes. The current population of the United States is approximately 315,000,000, and this is expected to increase to 400,000,000 by 2050 as births, immigration, and longevity increase, especially among ethnic and cultural minority populations.

  1. Older American/Ageing Populations

Because of the harsh economic conditions and the possibility of the terminations of Social Security, Medicare, and other support programs, older Americans in jobs are reluctant (i.e., fearful) of retiring. Increases in the cost-of-living, especially those occurring in the necessities of transportation and food, compel many Americans of retirement ages to remain in their positions resulting in fewer jobs for younger people.

3. Global and National Population Demographics

The population of the United States and the world is increasing, and our economy cannot accommodate to the specifics demographic changes. The current population of the United States is approximately 315,000,000, and this is expected to increase to 400,000,000 by 2050 as births, immigration, and longevity increase, especially among ethnic and cultural minority populations.

4. Older American/Ageing Populations

Because of the harsh economic conditions and the possibility of the terminations of Social Security, Medicare, and other support programs, older Americans in jobs are reluctant (i.e., fearful) of retiring. Increases in the cost-of-living, especially those occurring in the necessities of transportation and food, compel many Americans of retirement ages to remain in their positions resulting in fewer jobs for younger people.

5. Reduction of Military Troops (“Bring the Boys Home!”)

The military has served as a huge employment pool for many young soldiers whose employability would normally be low. But, the economic costs of maintaining armed forces at this level have reached incomprehensible limits. Estimates now are that the military defense costs for the coming year may exceed 1.1 trillion dollars. Thus, we are subsidizing the military-industrial complex much like we subsidized corporate America (Insurance, Banks, Investment Companies, Automobile Manufacturing). Yet, when the troops do return, where are the employment opportunities for them. Indeed, many are returning with debilitating physical injuries (brain damage) and mental disorders (PTSD).

6. Automatization

It is now clear that millions of jobs in the United States have been replaced by automatization, and this tendency is going to increase because labor often constitutes highest expenditure for businesses. It is not only salaries, but also medical and retirement benefits that are reduced by using automatization. Robots still do not have a union, nor are they likely to form one. Already we have witnessed extensive efforts to close unions (State of Wisconsin), and to ask employees to pay for larger portions of their employability and retirement costs. Manufacturing may increase, but not necessarily employment nor wages.

7. Movement of Jobs to Foreign Locations

Everyone is aware that American businesses have moved their operations (i.e., services, manufacturing) to foreign locations. While this has cut costs, raised profits, and assisted foreign economies, it has obviously reduced employment in the United States. The problem is exacerbated at a global level when employee costs rise, and efforts are made to find new locations with cheap labor. Once it was China, then India, then Brazil, then Bangladesh, and on and on. At this point, it is an established business maxim that manufacturing will follow low cost labor, regardless of location. One of the reasons that “union busting” is occurring is that business leaders have blamed the poor economy on “labor” costs, and claim that they will bring manufacturing back to the USA if they can halt labor efforts to raise keep salaries and wages. This from individuals whose wealth is at such extravagant levels that they should be held before as violators of “societal responsibilities and obligations.”

8. Loss and Absence of Manufacturing Industries in USA

At one point in time, the United States was the manufacturing power of the world, and different manufacturing industries employed the largest proportion of workers, most with the added benefits. Today, there has been a dramatic reduction of manufacturing industries in the United States, as other nations (e.g., Brazil, China, India, Korea) increased their share. Although there are calls for an expansion of manufacturing in the United States, the fact of the matter is that there are few manufacturing industries likely to return the USA to its former leadership position (except for the manufacture of military arms).

Widespread appeals for job training are now being answered with frustration by asking “job training for what!” There are many people with information and computer skills and abilities – they remain unemployed. What are the industries that only the USA can develop and sustain? This is a critical question. The USA may recapture a manufacturing edge, but will this mean employment, lower wages and salaries, or more robotics?

Fraser (2012) writes that our movement away from manufacturing to an emphasis on the financial paper, brought with it major disasters. Fraser writes:

Manufacturing, which accounted for nearly 30% of the economy after the Second World War, had dropped to just over 10% by 2011. Since the turn of the millennium alone, 3.5 million more manufacturing jobs have vanished and 42,000 manufacturing plants were shuttered. Between 1980 and 2005, profits in the financial sector increased by 800%, more than three times the growth in non-financial sectors. . . . A hedge fund manager put it bluntly, “The money that’s made from manufacturing stuff is a pittance in comparison to the amount of money made from shuffling money around” (Fraser, 2012, p. 10).

9. Government Public Works Projects

The collapse of the essential transportation, education, sewers, utilities, and industrial infrastructure in the United States has led to proposals that the United States government fund massive public works programs since this would improve infrastructure problems and provide employment for hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of workers. Yet, it should be clear that this work would not offer employment for the diminishing middle class. Further, employment positions for construction are often temporary – seasonal and over after construction sites are complete.

10. Growth of Foreign Nation Economies

It is a paradox that as the United States sought to encourage the growth of foreign markets for its goods and services, foreign nations rapidly expanded there own markets and production capacities to the extent that they no longer needed many American products except for certain restricted industries (airplane construction, military weapons, selected technical products). These industries cannot provide the national employment numbers needed to resolve the unemployment crisis.

In addition, of course, many foreign economies are now in serious financial trouble requiring severe cutbacks in social support programs to pay foreign debt (e.g., Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal). European banks that financed extensive loans and bond purchases are now facing risks of payment defaults leaving them with sizeable losses and a fear of further investing. No investing – no employment – no money – an endless macabre dance of diminishing resources.

11. Energy Consumption

As a high-tech nation whose economy and industries rely heavily on our limited energy resources, it is now clear that the United States cannot sustain its current levels of energy consumption without excessive costs for foreign oil, and the exploitation and destruction of its own natural environment. Reliance on nuclear energy and the productions of tar sand oil, fracturing, and offshore drilling has led to extensive destruction. The expenditures for these energy costs combined with the resistance to explore alternative energy sources places the United States in a position of financial collapse.

We cannot simply continue to print money to meet needs since this does little to decrease unemployment and results in increases in cost-of-living. In brief, the United States continues to promote a consumption-oriented economy without the resources necessary for consumption to be addressed. Amidst the calls for sustainability, little is actually being done at national levels in terms of policies and programs. There are too many vested interests in continuing prior ways.

12. Wealth Without Work

One way of looking at the current economy of the United States (and the world) is that its emphasis on capitalism has resulted in a massive financial industry of “paper money.” Wealth is created on paper through buying and selling of stocks, bonds, and commodities. It is “wealth without work” (Gandhi’s term) except for the financial industry it has spawned. Yet if we failed to consider that (1) there are now more than 630,000 multinational corporations who owe no loyalty to any nation, (2) the fiscal system has created massive wealth inequities between rich and poor, (3) credit and bank businesses have flourished as use of plastic has been maximized, and (4) corporations and businesses have shown little social conscience, it is clear unemployment is not going to be reduced to any significant degree. Further, the more basic issue of meaningful “work” is being ignored.

For Gandhi, the idea of making money by moving papers around was essentially “wealth without work” and was considered one of seven sins.

13. Black Swan Events: Unpredictable Events

The unpredictability of so many events capable of impacting unemployment rates and quality of work make policy planning and implementation difficult. This cannot be denied. Wars, climate change, epidemics, disasters, social upheavals and insurgencies, infrastructure breakdown – the possibilities are endless. But, these possibilities must be considered in any equation.

14. Tax Shelters/Foreign Accounts

Everyone seems to be aware that there are ways to shelter your income/wealth from taxes. Indeed, estate planners and tax accountants offer these as specialty services. Obviously, some tax shelters have important implications for legitimate charities and social programs. However, many are simply “dodges.” In combination with tax shelters of dubious distinction, there are also opportunities to shelter your wealth by placing money in foreign banks. Banks in Switzerland, Luxembourg, and the Caribbean areas are noted for accepting huge deposits of money and related wealth and never identifying the individuals. Indeed, the recent presidential elections called attention to the uses of this tactic by government and corporate leaders. Whatever the case may be, “hidden wealth” escapes taxes that could be used for stimulating the economy. It does not matter if these options and other loopholes are “legal,” they represent an abuse of citizenship responsibilities.

15. Taxing Corporate Wealth

In a recent report in the Washington Post, reporters Jia Yang and Suzie Kimm write that a major effort is underway to eliminate taxes on business profits made overseas. According to the writers, efforts to do this have been occurring for years, and now amidst the “tax” controversies, it is being held out as a new possibility to reduce corporate taxes. Of course, many of these corporations will continue to maintain foreign locations, and develop new ones, all of which will to the unemployment crisis Yang and Kimmn (December 2, 2012, 6:30 AM) write that business leaders and lobbyists are pushing hard for a “territorial” exemption:

They say U.S. multinationals face a disadvantage against overseas competitors because, unlike practices in many other developed countries, the Internal Revenue Service collects taxes on foreign income when it is brought back into the United States. These companies argue that if the tax were eliminated, they would be more likely to bring their overseas earnings back to the United States. It is estimated that U.S. multinationals are holding $1.7 trillion in earnings abroad, largely to avoid being taxed at a 35 percent rate. Some tax experts warn, however, that such a change could radically alter how companies behave and have broad implications for the economy. Without the right safeguards, they say, eliminating taxes on foreign profits and switching to what is known as a “territorial” system would blow a hole in tax revenue, give multinationals more leeway to exploit tax havens and drive jobs overseas. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/with-fiscal-cliff-some-promote-corporate-tax-code-reform-to-territorial-system/2012/11/28/…)

16. Others Events, Forces, People – Not Included

THE ISSUE OF “WORK”

Enough at this point about the issue of unemployment — its many and complex causes, consequences, players, and efforts to address the crisis. All of the points I have touched on contribute to the problem. Changing only some will not improve the problems in the USA or global community. This does not mean that the problem cannot be addressed; rather, the problem will require major immediate, short-term, medi-term, and long-term changes. The changes will require addressing values, social formations, and structural sources that are at the heart of the problem. This raises the psychosocial issue of work. Work is not simply employment. It is so much more. It is about identity and purpose. While employment may bring monetary compensation, it does not by itself bring satisfaction, contentment, fulfillment, or any of those qualitative aspects of life essential for well being. As one person employed below his training and aspirations said: “It is a job.” A job isn’t the same as “work.” We are thinking of human dignity as we address the crisis.

Amidst the sheer pressures to survive, it is not unusual to find people saying “I will take any job you have available.” That is what it has come to at this point in time while wealth is concentrated. This is task before government and private business leaders – wealth distribution in a more equitable way that shows respect for others.

We don’t need just jobs, we need dignity, respect, fulfillment, satisfaction, rights, opportunities. Almost two decades ago, I tried — long before the current crisis — I made a distinction between “job,” “employment,” and “work.” I recall people in the prior generation telling me of the honor associated with “work.” For them it was a natural impulse to “work,” it was satisfying to “work,” it was meaningful to “work.” Our society has turned from this point of view. It isn’t just “unemployment” that causes medical and mental health problems – (e.g., depression, substance abuse, violence), it is also employment that demeans through boredom, repetitiveness, degradation, exposure to risk, and a host of other factors, exacts a harsh and brutal toll on the worker (Marsella, 1994).

Work is not simply performing a job; work is also a daily-life context that molds and shapes both the individual and the social formation. Work refers to those activities (i.e., labor) which an individual engages in for purposes of (1) financial reward and compensation, (2) personal satisfaction and development, and (3) psychosocial and physical survival and wellbeing. These activities result in the production of a particular product (i.e., material goods, services, ideas and/or knowledge and wisdom) which has individual, societal, and “global” value and worth (Marsella, 1994).

Several decades ago, I heard a TV announcer claim “The business of life is business.” I respect those who value “business” (i.e., the exchange of goods and services for the mutual benefit of buyer and seller.), and I am grateful for those whose efforts have led to employment for millions. But somehow — somewhere along the way, we failed to grasp the value of individual well being and its implications and consequences for not only the person, but for the world we live in each day and the world we wish to create. Without recognition of the distinctions between job and work, we will be facing other problems of equal gravity and consequence.

AND SO . . .

So where does this leave us? Without employment, there is no money for meeting basics life expenses, unless governments or other groups can provide financial supports. Without money for food, shelter, medical, and educational expenses, there will be increasing numbers of human and familial casualties – all victims of a failed economic, political, and cultural system that has chosen to sacrifice lives for profit and greed. Failure to understand and appreciate the life experience and consequences of the unemployed is creating a divisive societal mentality in which “competition” – winning at any cost — becomes the arbiter of survival. But this mentality is unsuited for a global era in which the world population will approach nine million people within three decades. The “social Darwinism” mentality of the Nineteenth Century can only lead to chaos.

Governments are not speaking of the complex causes and consequences of unemployment across the world. To do so would mean a widespread awareness of the failures and limitations of economic ideologies, policies, and practices that continue benefit a limited few. This would shatter hopes, raise anger and resentment, and lead to widespread calls for massive social and political changes. Instead, what we have are opinions, debates, and commentaries from our leaders who are doing little more than postponing the obvious solutions required for our society and the world – solutions that challenge and condemn existing political and economic hierarchies, institutions, and policies, and demand a a re-thinking of our future.

Government leadership is non-existent as the pursuit of winning elections and public adulation personalities become the primary agenda. At every level, local, national, global, we are facing crises in which all social support systems (i.e., educational, medical, justice, retirement) are collapsing amidst charades of concern. I hear voices using economic terms (taxes, recession, depression, inflation, printing of money). I hear voices calling for austerity, amidst opulence, calling for sacrifice, amidst indulgence, calling for accommodation to the welfare of the wealthy.

I do not hear voices in government speaking for human beings – people living lives of quiet desperation — people asking for dignity, respect, and hope — people asking – begging — to be recognized and acknowledged in a world that seems to be denying their existence, presence, and needs. I am concerned that the term “disposable” people has entered our discourse.

I wish I could offer a sanguine commentary. I cannot. I must in the end be one of hundreds of millions (billions) of voices who recognize the problem cannot be solved by replicating the same system that led to our current situation. It is a “flawed and useless system for a global era. — an ideological, political, economic, technological, philosophical, and moral system that is preserve past social formations, institutions, and cultures that are no longer viable. Where are the public discussions regarding the implications of unbridled technology (e.g., biotechnology, neurotechnology, behavioral technology, information technology) that has unleashed views of human nature and purpose that require discussion and debate regarding consequences for life itself. We` are confusing change with progress.

Progress means an advancing – an optimization – of our conditions, it does not mean change because change is possible. Consider the situation in the development of military weapons. The magnitude of destruction has proliferated beyond imaginable levels and threatens al life. For example, the use of radioactive weaponry in Fallujah (Iraq) has left deformed children; the uses of Agent Orange in Vietnam and deadly chemicals in the Gulf War has left a legacy of suffering and death on all sides; reliance on nuclear energy and “fracking” for energy has damaged life, land, and oceans; neutron bombs that kill people but leave buildings (so Wall Street can still function); surveillance technology that can track and control behavior; crowd control technology that can disable hundred of thousands involved in protests and popular uprisings. What “demon” minds have created and supported these examples under the guise of “progress.”

The discussions and debates of among domestic, national, and international leaders and groups will continue, but vested interests will always defend their positions and power. The powerful (wealthy) will meet annually in Davos, Switzerland, and offering their opinions and suggestions as they speak of new business deals amidst excessive opulence. Special lobbying groups for virtually every imaginable interests (e.g., energy, banking, military, pharmacology, chemistry, plastics, mining, farming, unions) will organize, meet, and influence policy and practices via political contacts and financial investments that constitute advantages for their constituencies.

But, who will speak for the people. The people are not the members of these constituencies. These are special interests that benefit a limited few. We have built a fractionated society in which special interests trump the people’s interests. These may be employers, but they have minimal concern for employees as they turn to technologies, foreign labor, and minimal benefits. Who speaks for humanity? Who speaks for the planet? Who speaks for life? Discontent is widespread (e.g., Occupy Wall Street), but so is repression and control in the name of national security. It can be said that every group advocating for peace, human rights, justice, anti-war, veterans care, minority rights, equality is seen by the government and commercial sectors as a threat to the social order. This is ironic, when it is the social order with its social formations, institutions, and media controls, that is, in fact, the problem.

Patriotism is the expression of dissent when those in power abuse rights and privileges. Patriotism requires dissent. It insists that rights, privileges, and laws be considered and respected. Blind nationalism and corporate protections constitute the real danger for our Constitutional heritage. Those who consent and protect corrupt government and business policies and actions are not patriots. They have been called other names throughout history, none of them virtuous (e.g., Fascist, Nazi). Trust in government has disappeared, loyalty to companies has diminished, pessimism is wide spread, and public awareness of “conspiracies” and corruption has increased. Yet, for the most part, citizen activism is limited because popular culture (e.g., consumerism, commodification, materialism, celebritization, individualization) keeps most of our national population filled with soporifics that pacify and contain responses.

There are inspirational signs and actions that offer hope. Volunteerism, idealism among youth, alternative media communications, “patriotic” voices, hundreds of groups concerned with peace, justice, and social responsibility and obligations. These movements, individuals, and groups are driven by the most human of impulses and motives – compassion, empathy, and social interests (gemeinschaftsgefuhl). But their opposite numbers in the military/industrial/congressional complex, the shadow governments, corporate cabals, and oppressive nations seeking territory and energy resources have all the resources (e.g., power, military, wealth) to stifle and suppress any contentions. As President Franklin Roosevelt said “we must not return to the evils of the old order.”

What then is the answer? For me, the answer resides in rethinking our purposes and choices in national discussions that go beyond government representation, and begin at the community level, and all must be invited to participate. Simple questions need to be asked: What are the challenges we face? What do we want our world, nation, society, and culture to value? How can we actualize our visions? When do we begin?

References

  • Davidson, A. (2012). Making it in America. The Atlantic, 309, 58-70.
  • Fraser, Steve (December 3, 2012). The archeology of the decline: Debtapocalpyse and the hollowing out of America. Tom Dispatch/New Analysis
  • http://truth-out.org/news/item/13112-the-archeology-of-decline-debtpocalypse-and-the-hollowing-out-of-america
  • Griffin, G. (1994/2011). The creature for Jekyll Island. Westlake Village, CA: American Media sth
  • Marsella, A.J. (1994). The measurement of emotional reactions to work: Conceptual, methodological, and research issues. Work & Stress, 8, 153-176.

_______________________

Anthony Marsella, Ph.D., a member of the TRANSCEND Network, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu. He is known nationally and internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 15 edited books, and more than 250 articles, chapters, book reviews, and popular pieces. He can be reached at marsella@hawaii.edu.

 

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