Even Americans in the top 1 percent want to call themselves middle class because Americans have a strange, unspoken tension around wealth and inequality: we think anyone should be able to be as rich as possible, but then we are uncomfortable with the resulting inequality, but instead of talking about how to fix the systemic and policy problems that have created the inequality we want to talk about whether individual rich people are good or bad, deserving or undeserving.
“For individual people to admit that they are privileged is not necessarily going to change an unequal system of accumulation and distribution of resources.
Instead, we should talk not about the moral worth of individuals but about the moral worth of particular social arrangements. Is the society we want one in which it is acceptable for some people to have tens of millions or billions of dollars as long as they are hardworking, generous, not materialistic and down to earth? Or should there be some other moral rubric, that would strive for a society in which such high levels of inequality were morally unacceptable, regardless of how nice or moderate its beneficiaries are?”
Lee Drutman has another tour de force about toxic partisanship, tribal loyalties, and the doom loop of mistrust Americans are caught in. He identifies three problems and solutions:
- Winner-take-all electoral methods → proportional representation
- Powerful president → more powerful Congress, state governments, and local governments
- Private money in politics → campaign finance reform that allows politicians to focus on voters, not big donors
I’m not inclined to have blind respect for authority, but this article about Chinese schools (behind paywall) convinced me that it would be better for teachers to be respected and spend all their time teaching, rather than spending most of their time trying to manage a classroom of kids and parents who question everything. It also made an interesting point that Chinese culture tends to consistently respect hard work, whereas American culture often believes in natural genius. That reminded me of this piece about women in Silicon Valley, and that one of the things working against women is the stubborn American belief that, while women can work hard and succeed as lawyers or doctors, men are more likely to have the innate genius that is required for success in math computer science.
This week, as I prepare to move my family across the water and into a completely different lifestyle than the one to which we have become accustomed, I found this article about the currently inchoate successor to capitalism to be both reassuring and inspiring. Rather than describing the various theories, it focuses on what they have in common:
“They move beyond the reductionist dogmas of orthodox economics and embrace complexity; they focus on regenerating rather than simply using-up our planet’s resources; they think more holistically about how to live well within ecological boundaries; some of them draw on indigenous knowledge and lore about how to stay in balance with nature; others confront the contradictions of endless growth head on.”
This also happens to describe pretty accurately the changes that we are hoping to make in our own lives with this move from apartment-dwelling renters to stewards of our own little homestead, which makes me hopeful that maybe we as a society are moving toward embracing a paradigm beyond consumption. As the authors point out:
“It would be a sad and defeated world that simply accepted the prebaked assumption that capitalism (or socialism, or communism) represents the last stage of human thought; our ingenuity exhausted. Capitalism’s fundamental rules–like the necessity for endless GDP growth, which requires treating our planet as an infinite pit of value and damage to it as an ‘externality’—can be upgraded. Of course they can. There are plenty of options on the table. When have we humans ever accepted the idea that change for the better is a thing of the past?”
Better to say this is collapse than spout this cheerleading. I’m optimistic but not for capitalism. There is power in saying what is…