The New Global Elite

The Rise of the New Global Elite“,  Chrystia Freeland, The Atlantic, January/February 2011

The global capitalist economy is booming. Global poverty is improving on a scale undreamed of. From 1973 thru 2002, per capita income in China and India have grown 245 percent. Investment, technology, and innovation are creating huge productivity gains, and increasing wealth world-wide.

Nearly everyone is getting richer, but the rich are getting even richer.  Chrystia Freeland notes that this “new super-rich” are largely first or second generation wealthy, highly educated, very hard working, self-made “meritocrats” who increasingly see themselves as apart from everyone else, a “transglobal community“.

Herself a vendor in this world, (she moderates elite world conferences), Freeland hints at scandal here, or at least an impending crisis. She thinks there is ill-gotten gain. “the vast majority of U.S. workers have missed out on the wind-falls of this winner-take-most economy. . .are ravaged by the same forces that have enriched the plutocratic elite.”

Freeland gives us inside gossip. The daughter of billionaire investment banker Peter Peterson, Holly Peterson, her friend, speaks of New York – “people have no clue about how much money there is in this town” and tells of dinner conversations in which a $20 million salary is considered not quite adequate – $10 million goes to taxes.

This “plutocratic elite” gathers actively in international forums for brainstorming, networking, education, and planning.  With “philanthrocapitalism“, they bestow their wealth entrepreneurally, “they are using their wealth to test new ways to solve big problems”. However, they do not seem interested in trying to help government, and do not want to pay more taxes.  “My money isn’t going to be wasted in your deficit sink hole“.

One has think that this worldwide economic growth, with millions being lifted out of poverty, is a good thing.  And these global elites do not have armies.  They do not take people away in the middle of the night.  But Freeland thinks that some kind of Robin Hood action will be necessary. “There is the simple fact that someone will have to pay for the improved public education and social safety net the American middle class will need in order to navigate the wrenching transformations of the global economy“. But it isn’t clear how a growing world economy that helps the middle classes of the rest of the world hurts the middle class of America.

The lesson of history is that, in the long run, super-elites have two ways to survive: by suppressing dissent or by sharing their wealth.”

One wonders about this ‘lesson of history’. The wealth of this new global elite is not hoarded in vaults. It is, in a real sense, already ‘shared’. It is held in bonds, and securities, and industrial investments that are selected to yield results and employ people to produce products and services that people want. While they pay a great deal in taxes, they don’t want to pay more, and this may be the sharing Freeland has in mind. These elites don’t see the value of supporting failing bureaucracies. They don’t believe that more money for public education will improve the results.

Iron Lady

Absence of Mind, Dispelling of inwardness from the modern myth of the Self,  Marilynne Robinson, 2010.

“But there is a fact of modern history, and there is the fact that intellectuals, renowned in their time, made significant contributions to the worst of it.

So speaks the literary mind, author of the novel, Gilead, Marilynne Robinson, across C.P.Snow’s divide between the two cultures – science and the humanities – to the illustrious “parascientific” priests of modern atheism: Dennett, Wilson, Dawkins, Harris, and others.  In her Yale Terry Lectures, she  speaks of her concern for the modern scientific dismissal of human subjectivity – the human soul – that is so increasingly entrenched, and unacknowledged, in the pontifications of these august thinkers.

The brain and its satellite glands have now been probed to the point where no particular site remains that can reasonably be supposed to harbor a non-physical brain.”  E. O. Wilson

She finds these pronouncements to be breezy and deft, but unsubstantiated and conjectural, and indeed not very scientific. Parascience, she calls this, a sort of science fundamentalism. You could learn something from the best of religious thought, she tells them:  Respect what you cannot know.

From antiquity, insistance on the ontological unlikeness of God to the categories to which the human mind has recourse is at the center of theological reflection.”

gravity, light, or time . . . are sufficient to persuade me that conclusions about the ultimate nature of things are, to say the least, premature, and that to suggest otherwise is unscientific.”  Harper’s Magazine, 2006.

Robinson notes that despite the true and profound biological origins of the human mind that are rooted in the drives for survival and for reproduction, the subjective human mind still is what it does, and what it does is have emotions, and aspirations, and seeks knowledge, and wonder, and develops culture, and art, and social cooperation, all with a capacity that can’t be explained.

there is that haunting compatibility of our means of knowing, with the universe of things to be known.”

Conscious subjectivity is substantially who and what we are, and has consequences that can’t be denied.

For Robinson, this growing arrogance of modern science – that everything that has come before is wrong, that subjectivity is not central – is as dogmatic and authoritarian as the religions they decry.  Morality is nothing if not respect for the subjectivity of individuals.

She wants science to see its own active role in fostering tribalism and violence in human history.  “if there is a special virtue in the scientific perspective, why do the worst regimes have so little trouble recruiting the best scientists?” She reminds us that Huxley, the great Darwin champion, was eugenicist, that the abolitionists were christians, and that the Amish fundamentalists – who don’t teach evolution – are very ‘green’ and are pacificists!

Mental Engineering

“The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself.  The machine that appears to be “out there” and the person that appears to be “in here” are not two separate things.”

Robert M. Pirsig,  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, 1974

This book came from nowhere and was a sensation in its time. It is about someone who was really smart, who somehow lost his mental bearings, and now is on a motorcycle journey, haunted, retracing his former lost self, trying to understand it all.  He is with his son, who, like a ghost of his father, is having his own mental trouble.

Mental illness is about confusing what is “out there” and what is “in here”. We try to keep our mental selves – our motorcycles – running smoothly, despite the confusing differences of others, and the unpredictability of our engines.

There are objects and events, like rocks and rainfall, and there are attributes, like tall, short, and long. Some minds see the thing, some minds, the idea-of-the- thing. These different kinds of minds often don’t get along, and the author has been bothered by this.  He can see both things and ideas of things, and wants to clarify, and in the process, heal.

In his former self, his eccentric path – he started in science, then had a sojourn in India, and then returned to study philosophy – led him to discover a little known voice in the Socratic dialogues of Plato, Phaedrus. Phaedrus, it seems, unlike Socrates, sensed that we know things, without knowing how we know them, and without having learned them. Socrates and Plato wouldn’t listen, you see, and the rest is history, including the human creation of inhumane technology.

Pirsig found that in his teaching of technical writing, his job before his mental breakdown, his students unfailingly could recognize good writing when they heard it, without being taught its attributes, and whether they could write well themselves or not.  He also found that experiencing good writing helped them become better writers.

Good writing had something he decided to call ‘Quality’.  He discovered that this ‘quality’ can not be defined. This created an epiphany – here was a truth, knowable and yet undefinable, a mystical reality. Further, this aspect of good writing could be found in the good of all things – art, philosophy, and technology. Pirsig came to believe that holding this mental category, this category of the knowable unknown, powerfully enhanced one’s intellectual, emotional, and even scientific understanding, much like holding the category zero – the something that is nothing – powerfully advances mathematics. For him, it seemed to be the path to a unification of thinking and feeling, reason and intuition, technology and humanism, the synthesis prior to all dualities, the Tao of the ancient oriental sages.  He discovered, in his own way, the perennial philosophy, . . . and it gave him ideaphoric mania.

He see’s it all now, on this journey.  Ideas and attributes are wonderful and powerful, they can design a motorcycle, but it still requires maintenance.

Founding Mystic

Transcendentalism, n. 1. the philosophy that proposes to discover the nature of reality by investigating the process of thought rather than the objects of sense experience. . . Webster’s Unabridged

Emerson, The Mind on Fire, Robert D. Richardson, Jr.  1995

Scales and chords. For Ralph Waldo Emerson, it was words and sentences.  He was a prose artist, and his practice was journal writing.  He sought the artistic experience of using a crafted skill to achieve meaning in expression.

Emerson was, like Immanual Kant, disturbed by skepticism, the philosophy of David Hume that says that we can’t really know what we know, that causality itself can’t be proven, that all thinking derives from sense perception, that no inductions can have the force of certainty, that the self is illusory. Emerson believed in the validity of intuition, the truth of what can be sensed from self-awareness in parallel with awareness of the world. One’s mind is made by nature, one’s mind is valid. Live, look, and see. From one’s full experience, one can know all that there is. “The whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind.”  “My own mind is the direct revelation I have from God .”

Unwittingly, he affirmed the American political vision, in the mystical realm. “The highest revelation is that God is in every man.

He was well aware of the pitfalls, the draw of sophistry, of experts, of the easy, shallow path.  “It is easy to live for others, everybody does.  I call on you to live for yourselves . . .”  Follow your mind, but watch your step.  “When you write do not omit the thing you meant to say“.

Writing was self-actualization, his steadied stepping along a true path.  He was after first impressions, not second thoughts.  “For the best part . . of every mind is not that which a person knows, but that which hovers in gleams, suggestions, tantalizing unpossessed before him”. He recorded dreams. He cultivated flow. “The way to write is to throw your body at the mark when your arrows are spent“.  Don’t fret for that hobgoblin: consistency.

I will no longer confer, differ, refer, defer, prefer, or suffer

In his relentless exploration of words and sentences, as he journeyed and journaled his own mind, Emerson learned to know what words can’t say, and what mystics always discover:  that there is thinking, and there is knowing, and they are not the same. In carefully perceiving what is, and listening to what one thinks – in this mysterious interplay of sensing and thinking -Emerson came to sense the nameless, universal essence of the world.  And so can we all.  Self Reliance.

Emerson grasped that nature self-registers. The active mind vivifies the attributes and forms and living magic of beauty, love, time, and eternity. All individuals, then, can be gods, in this way, creators of the world.  And for Emerson, that is the way to live.

A New Economics

To endure, free societies must foster access to wealth, there must be democratization of wealth. Everyday people must prosper. Their ability to secure the means to achieve their human needs must be available.

At the American founding, wealth for everyday people came from farming.  The continent presented a vast supply of essentially free, never-tilled land.  Political rights and national sovereignty were priorities. Industrialization was not foreseen.

As available land was taken up, farming was less and less a means for acquiring wealth. The civil war led to industrialization, and mechanization decimated farm labor. In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, portrays dispossessed farm laborers, watching, as they leave town for California, one tractor, in one morning, do the work that used to take all of them together weeks to do.  The Great Depression followed.  The industrial era had not advanced enough to take up for the loss of farm labor employment.

The New Deal subsidized employment, directly hired millions, created public work projects, and strengthened worker’s rights. This was successful, for a time, because economic output was labor intensive. Enterprises used hands and backs much more than machines.  Building roads utilized thousands of workers. Today, however, economic output has become capital intensive. With stunning engineering advancements, capital – knowledge, resources, technology, machines –  has become the vital input.  Increasing production does not require commensurate increase in labor and wealth flows increasingly to capital. Employment is failing to provide for democratization of wealth.

Ironically, attempts to increase the value and opportunity for labor – such as with direct government employment, government subsidy, mandated higher wages and benefits – only serve to accelerate the process of shrinking labor value, because they increase the incentive to produce with less labor.  The entitlement society, by progressively redistributing income from the employed to the non-employed, accelerates this further as the employed sector is pressed to ever greater efficiency – to use less labor – to pay for the ever growing non-employed sector. In a feedback spiral, the non-employed sector fights for political influence and increases its taxation demands, further pressuring the employed, tax paying sector to produce greater labor saving efficiency.

And so, a new economics is needed. This new economics will somehow have to democratize wealth by democratizing capital. In some new way, individual citizens will need to automatically accumulate capital as they normally perform their life cycle.  This capital must be their property, their new kind of seed corn, and it must be unavailable to politicians to use for cultivating their own political popularity. But the state must ensure that it is measuredly utilized rather than consumed.  It must accumulate, somehow sequestered to grow, and yet also be available for key life needs.

Capital will be the earner of the future, everyone will have to have capital. It may require a crisis to democratize capital and not labor, and that crisis may be neigh.

Earthrise

“The other thing. . . was that this little spot, the Bahamas lowland, was a turquoise jewel that you could see all the way to the moon. . . . It was like it was illuminated, like a piece of opal.  And you could see that all the way to the moon.  And I kept being amazed about that”.   Bill Anders,  Apollo 8

Imagine being behind a rock, on The Sea of Tranquility, on the moon, for these past 3.5 billion years. Off in your horizon would be this blue-white planet with patches of brown.  Over these years, you would notice these patches of brown coalesce and then separate, you would see white patches come and go, even for awhile covering the entire planet – “snow ball earth”.  You wouldn’t be able to see the proteinaceous sea congeal into life, in the blue, and then come ashore and then proliferate, but you would notice increasing green.  You might happen to notice, some 65 million years ago, a meteor strike the planet, clouding up the blue and white, and green, but you wouldn’t be able to know that this collision would set the stage for small mammals to evolve into primates, and eventually into self-conscious, self-cultivating beings, humans.  You wouldn’t know that Kublai Khan, after conquering all of China, failed to conquer Japan.  You would, however, eventually note a faint suggestion of lighted areas, particularly along blue margins, due to the intentional harnessing of energy into light by humankind, although you wouldn’t realize the profound human global proliferation.

Then, on July 20, 1969, suddenly, out of the black sky you would notice a shiny, flaming object descending towards you, with blinking lights, and gold and silver lining.   It would land with a slight bounce and puff of dust, and then would extinguish its flame.  A bit later, two objects would emerge, slowly descend, and move around, digging and gesturing.  They would plant a flag, go back inside, and then later, with a new burst of flame, ascend and disappear.

You would have witnessed a singular event, and would then know that somehow, in the silent black of the immense universe of stars, and in this triangular neighborhood of the sun, the moon, and the earth, self-organizing systems of organic complexity managed to create non-organic systems of complexity that could carry them across empty space and bring them to see for themselves the silent, vast heavens they had for so long imagined, and allow them to look back on their planet and see, in one small view, where everyone has ever lived and died, and where all of any known history has happened.

You would know that they will still live with the mystery of it all, but they will have at last come to know, for sure, that this mystery is. . . . real.

when I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the surface of the moon, I cried.  And if everybody had ever told me I was going to do that, I’d have said, “no, you’re out of your mind.” Alan Shepard, Apollo 14

Contradiction Hitchens

If there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it”  [Yvonne Hitchens]   Hitch 22, A Memoir, Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens was a middle class Brit, but received an upper class education.  Perhaps this explains his ‘contradictions’.  A part of him would be unable to forget that everyday people want what his upper class Oxford friends take for granted: security, freedom, prosperity, and leisure.  He would know the merits of the bourgeoise.

He is a life-long Leftist, a champion of international socialism, a former Trotskyite, now a ‘conservative’ Marxist (his words), a professed agnostic.  He holds Henry Kissinger guilty of war crimes, wants the Pope brought before a grand jury, considers Bill Clinton a fraud, and supports a purge of Religion from society. He is a celebrated ‘public intellectual’.

But, . . . but, contradictions:  he has supported the forceful overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and the Iraq War of George W. Bush, a near unpardonable sin amongst his brethren.

I can identify the moment when I decided to come off the fence and to admit that I felt that I had been cheating on my dues

I thank whatever powers there may be for the power of the United states of America.  Without that reserve strength, the sheer mass of its arsenal in combination with the innovative maneuvers of its special forces, the tyrants and riffraff of the world would possess an undeserved sense of impunity.”

An engaging, entertaining wit, an erudite and humorous conversationalist with a John Lennon voice, Hitchens is an honest intellectual, following integrity. . . even when it leads to self-refutation. Christopher Lasch comes to mind.  One is just never sure how much the self-refutation is realized.

Contradictions, well stated, but held, side by side, by an incisive mind are puzzling, but also informative.  One is pushed to think deeper. Hitchens seems to have an awareness of the imperative of having convictions, of believing in something, and of being steadfast.  He has come to admire the American soldier.  He seems to realize, rare perhaps among his compatriots, how principled Leftism is utterly dependent on strongly defended civil freedoms, and that those liberties require not just legal and domestic protection, but also, in the larger world, military protection.

His friends are obsessed with the errors of colonialism, and imperialism, and inequality, but Hitchens seems able to say:  compared to what?

He owns up that his leftist friends haven’t much admired his hero George Orwell, didn’t much rally (and still do not) to the defense of his friend Salman Rushdie, that even Susan Sontag had to emphasize that communism was ‘itself a variant‘ of fascism, and that the Reader’s Digest has been a more useful guide to communist reality than the Nation. . !

Alas, with his book God is not Great he has aligned himself with prominent, avowed atheists. How can someone as thoughtful and well-read as he find that religion causes tribalism instead of vice versa? Hasn’t he read The Lord of the Flies?

For Profit

In Basic Economics, Thomas Sowell provides a clear treatment of the economic principles that underlie capitalist economics.  First he explains the fundamental mechanisms of capitalism, then he shows how even educated people tend to misunderstand these basic concepts. This book is not just an introductory course in economics, it is an explanation of its counter-intuitive logic.

As Sowell defines it:

Economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources that have alternative uses.

that have alternative uses” – that is the key. Most people understand that capitalism is driven by profits. Producers are motivated to create companies and sell products because they can retain the difference between production costs and the price the customer pays.  And customers will pay a higher price for products that are more valuable to them. That is simple enough. But Sowell explains further that producers compete with each other for inputs, the materials needed to make their products.  To maximize profit, producers seek the lowest possible input costs, and so they use inputs, whenever possible, with the least valuable alternative use.  They are less in demand and therefore lower in cost. This creates efficiency in the utilization of resources. The profit motive thus drives the match of  the value of resources with the value the customer seeks.  More valuable resources get used to produce what customers value most.

There is an all-to-common characterization of profit as a selfish cheating of the customer, motivated by ‘greed’.  With Dr. Sowell’s reasoning, profit is a moral pursuit. A business that does not earn profit is needlessly employing scarce resources that could be used more effectively in some other way.  The story of profit capitalism, then, is products being made the same or better, but with less resource inputsdoing more with less. A firm either produces a higher quality product using the same cost of inputs, or makes the same product using lower cost inputs.  Resources get utilized efficiently, desired products are produced, needs are satisfied, fortunes are made, and wealth is created.  And all with price and profit, not control and coercion.

Sowell is frustrated that the advantages that drive a capitalist economy are strangely dismissed, often, by the very people who enjoy its fruits.  The failures of controlled economies should drive us to embrace the benefits of capitalist economics and profit.

The trend of the last century is encouraging:

The twentieth century began with high hopes for replacing the competition of the marketplace by a more efficient and more humane economy, planned and controlled by government in the interests of the people…But the most decisive evidence for the efficiency of the marketplace was that even those who were philosophically opposed to capitalism turned back toward it after seeing what happens when industry and commerce operate without the guidance of prices, profits and losses.


Do not Teach

The more you can know, the more you can learn”   E. D Hirsch, Jr.

American public education have declined progressively, and undeniably, despite the massive funding of the academic education establishment. This decline is so broad and profound as to be near unbelievable.

For E. D. Hirsch, Jr. the chief cause of this, amazingly so, is the driving academic theory of education that has come to prevail: the theory known as ‘constructivism‘. Developed from the ideas of Rousseau, and John Dewey, and the philosophical school of Pragmatism, this theory, in essence, concludes that education should not teach. Rather, education should facilitate. A child’s natural development, self-esteem, and skills are to be nudged, but specific content, memory, practice, and factual learning are not to be emphasized. Independent exploration is preferable to directed learning. A teacher is to help students ‘learn how to learn’ rather than prescribe what to learn. There is to be no standard curriculum.  There is to be no instruction. Casual reading will teach reading just as well as serious reading. Skills will develop independent of content.

E.D. Hirsch explains how this isn’t so. “Literacy requires the early and continued transmission of specific information”. One learns the use and meaning of words and ideas by matching real thoughts and real ideas with real meanings and with real words. Learning is the actual incremental mastering of real and specific content.

“Factual knowledge that is found in books is key to reading comprehension”.

Thus, alas, youth today are going to school, but are not, in fact, being taught.  Knowledge testing documents this all too clearly. We are falling behind much of the rest of the world. Well-dressed thirty year olds think France won the Civil War

The very advantage of effective culture has been for teaching future generations the hard-earned knowledge they would otherwise have to learn at unnecessary repeat cost. Our constructivist education specifically and quite purposely refuses to provide this advantage.

There is disguised politics here, for there is the belief that directed learning and a prescribed curriculum perpetuate social and political inequality. Not for nothing did John Dewey and others see education as a way to bypass politics to effect change. Bill Ayers, the Weatherman radical, is a Professor of Education.

One can be forgiven for noticing that those whose job is to teach embrace a theory that says they shouldn’t teach.

How do we tell the working class and middle class that their taxes pay for a philosophy of teaching that says to . . . not teach?

Nietzsche Madness

Acknowledgement of the death of God is a bomb that blows up many things, not just oppressive traditionalism, but also values like compassion and the equality of human dignity on which support for a tolerant liberal political order is based. This then is the Nietzschean dead end from which Western philosophy has still not emerged.”   Francis Fukayama, New York Times Review of Books, April 11, 2010.

Friedrich Nietzsche was a savant intellectual, a genius learner, a tenured Classics professor by age 24, a prodigy of learning what is already known.

One thinks of Joseph Knecht, the character who plays the Glass Bead Game in the Hermann Hesse sci-fi novel about academia: Magister Ludi. In this book, a game is played by special minds in which all forms of art and knowledge are codified into a form of a musical/logical/lexical informatic with which the players competitively uncover new syntheses of insight.  Hesse may have had Nietzsche in mind. Nietzsche was an academic philosopher, his entire life was reading, writing and thinking. He never married or had children. He came to believe that humans should be ruled by . . . . academic philosophers. For Nietzsche, an individual’s philosophical journey was to be his and everyone’s God. He wrote theatrically, with anger, condemnation, and provocation, if not hysteria.

Nietzsche scorned utilitarian and bourgeois morality. He saw human nature as Darwinian. He loved to describe the ‘will to power’ hidden in the actions of history, a motivation he found to be greater than survival. Thinking Men take us to something greater, he says, do not resist this. The strong should triumph. Exceptional people (like him) should flourish. Good versus evil is the rationalization of the weak. The notion of universal objective truth will be found wrong, and man will come to name his own truth. God is dead, and the Ubermensch, the Superman, will arise.

Nietzsche himself was continually sickly, and suffered increasing mental imbalance. His final breakdown is reported to have occurred after he witnessed the whipping of a horse.  He supposedly then ran to the horse to try to protect it, throwing his arms around its neck, and then collapsed into incoherence.

Mania with psychosis is strongly suggested. His writing and thought is megalomaniacal, racing, and grandiose. He came to see inorganic matter as having ‘motivation’. Thinking has magical power, intuition is supernatural.

In Nietzschean thought there are the inklings of Freudianism, fascism, communism, post modernism, and evolutionary psychology. He provides flamboyant cover for academic chauvinism and condescension, for intellectual elitism, for the cult of the Great Leader.

Academics love him to this day. For Cornel West, and many others, Neitzsche’s works are the most treasured. For those that gravitate to deconstruction, always parsing to uncover and reject what is wrong, Nietzsche invites them along, into tangles of creativity and corruption, idealism and nihilism. We have Francis Fukayama’s dead end.