Rationality and the Conflict of Values

We have been talking about values.  So, let’s turn our attention to the most fundamental of questions: Why are values essential to civilization?  How can shared values provide stability, sanity and safety, as society passes through major disruptions and change?

Most perplexing, why do our own personal values sometimes conflict with each other?

Human values grounded in religious teachings have remained relatively consistent for thousands of years.  The great majority are still accepted as valid today despite a society that is largely indifferent or even hostile to religion.

Since ancient times the history of ideas has been dominated by the assumption that society, and indeed all of human reality, is an integrated and coherent whole, governed by rules that are consistent and rational.

Consequently, it has been assumed that every genuine question must have a single correct answer and that the true answers to all questions must be compatible.

To put it another way, all truths were assumed to be harmonious, and when accurately understood could be expected to conform in consonance with one another.

This thinking is certainly logical, and it is reasonable that people would wish to believe in it.

However, as the human world has become more complex, we have been confronted with uncompromising evidence that reality and truth are not so simple.

We find ourselves increasingly challenged by choices that are incommensurable – that is, impossible to compare or measure against one another.  And, our most cherished values can come into direct conflict with one another, despite each being entirely good and reasonable in its’ own right.

This in no way questions the facts or the validity of the values.  Rather, it challenges us to make difficult moral judgments in complex circumstances.

Clearly, increasing complexity and morally perplexing choices will be present in our lives from now on.

Even science, the realm of endeavor most closely associated with reason and logic, is confronted with problems that present moral dilemmas – choices between evils.  And, the nature of complexity has proven mathematically impervious to predictability and rational expectations.

I do not deny an ultimate holistic conception of reality as an all-inclusive functional domain – one true Reality.

However, I suggest that its’ character requires us to mature – mentally, emotionally, spiritually – by engaging with ambiguity, paradox, and logical incongruities, all of which are intrinsic aspects of the world we are given.

I believe that to a limited extent such adversities can be addressed in similar ways by religious and non-religious people alike.  All of us face the daunting challenge of distinguishing between true reality and the myriad alternative realities imagined by the human mind.

Unsurprisingly, the earliest historical references to conflicting values and moral dilemmas appear in religious literature.

An incident I find most compelling is Jesus’ confrontation with a crowd of people who brought accusations of adultery against an unidentified woman.

Her accusers ended up walking away from Jesus (and from her) confounded by the rationality of His response to conflicting values. (John 8)

The letter of the law was not good enough.  It was a moment which I believe to be a turning point in human history.

The Apostle Paul describes an agonizing mental and spiritual ordeal in which he confronted insoluble choices.  His may be the earliest written account of the dilemmas presented by the two-fold nature of the human Will. (Romans 7)

Augustine, the philosopher and theologian of the 4th and 5th centuries, confronts the same problem in his “Confessions”, and “On Free Choice of the Will”, without resolution.

He finally reports his conclusion in “The City of God”, close to the end of his life.  And it is not what many would expect.

Augustine says we can only engage effectively with the conflicts and incongruities in life by means of love.

Yes, love, the ultimate law of unity and understanding that transcends diversity and differences, which prepares the way for problem-solving, and which aligns all aspects of our lives in a functional whole.

The way has been prepared for us in this world with severe tests of intellect and soul that will change us as we must be changed.

Tom

Dear readers:  The next post will be delayed for a week due to disruptions on the blog’s Facebook page, apparently caused by the current restructuring of Facebook code and consequent disarray.  Please watch for the next post on or about August 30.

The Second Amendment, Then and Now

The Bill of Rights, which includes the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was first proposed to Congress by James Madison as articles to be incorporated into the main body of the Constitution.

Congress approved twelve articles of amendment to the Constitution in 1789 and submitted them to the states for ratification.  Contrary to Madison’s proposal, they were submitted as “supplemental” additions.  Articles Three through Twelve were ratified by the required number of states and became Amendments One through Ten in 1791.

The Second Amendment, which has become a matter of considerable interest in recent years, reads as follows:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

This was not controversial at the time.  The concept existed in English common law long before the enactment of the Bill of Rights.  And, many Americans feel it necessary to own firearms today.

The importance of this issue to the Founders was quite clear.  James Madison, who introduced the language that became the Second Amendment, also wrote that “The Constitution preserves the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation where the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”

Alexander Hamilton, like Madison a strong advocate for Federalism, was equally explicit: “The constitution shall never be construed…to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.”

Thomas Jefferson famously said: “No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms.” And he also wrote that “The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

During the years just prior to the Revolutionary War there was mob violence in several of the colonies.  In addition, many Americans lived in or close to wilderness regions where conditions were essentially lawless.

The need people felt to protect their families was quite rational.

It should be noted that a primary motivation for supporting “a well regulated Militia,” expressed in the Second Amendment as “being necessary to the security of a free State,” was the strong opposition among the Founders to the concept of a standing army.

Thomas Jefferson put it this way: “None but an armed nation can dispense with a standing army.  To keep ours armed and disciplined is therefore at all times important.” “Every citizen should be a soldier,” he wrote. “This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state.”

The American reality in 1776 and 1791 was entirely different from that confronting us today.

Yet, news of social and religious violence imposes on our peace every day.  Older Americans are particularly sensitized to what has changed: the radical loss of trust and the absence of civility, ethical integrity, and social responsibility.

We must acknowledge the compelling reasons why so many feel it necessary to possess firearms.

It is in this context that I express my concern about the threat of force made or implied in the name of political ends.  We already face dangerous instability, a condition likely to grow worse as conditions deteriorate.  Political violence could easily tip us into chaos.

For those with the eyes to see, it is clear that the use of force for political ends will very likely produce exactly the opposite of its intended purpose.  There is a dynamic relationship between means and ends.  The character of our results will be determined by the character of the means we employ.

Indeed, violence committed by Americans against Americans would endanger the Constitution and contradict the rationale behind the incentive for violence itself.  The uniformed services are staffed by our own sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.  We need to win them over; not turn them against us.

We have pragmatic alternatives.  We need to learn what they are.  Both our purpose and our means must be carefully considered, and we need to get it right.

We face a long crisis.  Many dark and dangerous things can happen.

Tom

A reminder for readers: Please look for the next post on or about June 14.

First Principle

If Americans are to regain confidence in the future, we must learn to work together effectively despite our differences.  And, we will need to employ means that can actually lead to the ends we seek.  Let’s proceed then with respectful deliberation rather than emotion and ego.

The clash of differing opinions is a time-honored American tradition.  But, no American responds well to abuse, verbal or otherwise.  Expressing our views is important, but nothing will subvert our purpose more quickly than a combative attitude that alienates the very people we need to influence or work with.

We have choices.  We can choose to join forces to tackle the practical problems that threaten the safety and security of our communities.  We can choose to distinguish ourselves with civility and common decency, cooperating to resolve practical problems.

It is only in dependable working relationships tasked with shared responsibilities that we can truly come to know and influence one another.

We live in a time of dangerous instability.   It is a time to refrain from antagonistic words, a time to refocus our energy away from the dysfunction of partisan politics, so to secure essential needs at home.

I have described three essential elements that make safe communities possible.  They are trust, dependability, and constructive action.

These elements will only be found in communities where neighbors rise above their differences to serve a higher purpose.  And, for self-respecting Americans, purpose must be something more than “survival.”

As regular readers know, I use the term “constructive action” to describe the positive means by which we can realistically pursue shared goals.  And, I have explained that constructive action is impossible without a shared sense of purpose.

Shared purpose, I wrote, is a lens through which a community can bring the challenges of necessity into focus and coordinate the efforts of diverse personalities.  In working relationships, shared purpose can provide a standard by which to determine priorities and judge progress.

So, how can we understand constructive action?

Constructive action begins with the refusal to do harm.  It is action taken with dignity, respectfully, which refuses to hurt or injure – by impatience, dishonesty, hatred, or wishing ill of anybody.

Please do not misinterpret constructive action as merely a negative state of harmlessness.

On the contrary, while constructive action in its purest form attempts to treat even the evil-doer with honesty and grace, it will by no means assist the evil-doer in doing wrong.  Nor will it tolerate wrong-doing in any way.

Constructive action requires that we resist what is wrong and disassociate ourselves from it even if doing so antagonizes the wrong-doer.

Constructive action is the essential first principle upon which all other principles, values, and purposes depend.  Its’ underlying premise is pragmatic.  It allows communication and problem-solving even in the most difficult circumstances.

There is a close relationship between the positive spirit of respect and trustworthiness that characterizes constructive action and the moral integrity of the civil society we wish to build.  The two are inseparable as means and ends.

Constructive action is the means.  Unity of purpose grounded in moral integrity is the end.

Western political thinking has always considered means to be either an abstraction of tactics or simply the character of social and political machinery.  In both cases means are considered only in their service to the goals of political interests.

Here we have a very different understanding of means, replacing end-serving goals with an end-creating purpose.

Such an approach to our methods is necessary if we seek to apply traditional American values to rapidly changing circumstances.  Thus my call for the active engagement of all Americans in this endeavor, despite our vast diversity.

A vital and prosperous future can only be reached by capitalizing on our differences – in knowledge, skills, perspectives.

And, the better our working relationships, the better our chances for influencing one another – to attract, inspire, and understand.

Again, we have clear choices to make.

Either we choose to respect the Constitution and recover the fundamental meaning of the American Idea, or we can walk away forever from the safety, stability, and integrity of a future we can trust and believe in.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about May 31.

Hard Realities, Practical Needs

Americans know something is wrong.  It is easy to place blame; there is plenty to find fault with.  But, many sense that something unusual is unfolding, something that goes deeper than the headlines, something that has been a long time coming.

For the majority of Americans, social and economic conditions have been deteriorating for decades.  Civil order is crumbling.  Staggering numbers of jobs have disappeared.  Financial disruptions come one after another.

Some threats are obvious, but others lie hidden in the complexity of geopolitical stress, interlocking financial institutions, and a debt-based monetary system.

Our vulnerability is exacerbated by apathy and an inability to understand the choices that now confront us. We accept the present as normal, even when it is dangerous.  Most of us expect every day to be like the last.

To recognize that circumstances could lead to pain requires imagination and foresight.  Imagination based on fear can be get us in trouble, but so too can carelessness.

Imagination applied rationally is a survival skill.  Let me offer an example.

James Rickards is a monetary economist who has advised the Department of Defense and the CIA concerning terrorist threats to the monetary system and financial markets.

Writing about our well-equipped intelligence agencies, staffed by smart people who are intent on protecting the United States, he tells us that these agencies were actually monitoring most of the individuals who subsequently carried out the 9/11 attacks. Analysts were aware that several were being trained to fly airplanes.  In short, the intelligence community had the information it needed to warn of the impending attack.

The only thing missing, says Rickards, was imagination.

It is easy to understand why our families and friends might think we are being alarmist when we express concerns about the future. They are human. But, the time may come when they will depend on us.  We must trust our perceptions and think through the implications.

There are numerous resources available in bookstores and on the web, which can help us prepare for a long crisis. This blog (and book project) is focused specifically on the personal, social, and relational challenges involved: the effort to build dependable communities, and to accept moral responsibility in an increasingly disrupted and desperate world.

Local communities can organize around felt-needs – if we are ready to rise above our differences.  But, having little positive experience working with groups of dissimilar people will lead to challenges when trouble strikes.

We may have experienced community in a church group, club, or sporting pastime, but not usually in the immediate neighborhood where we live, and not in the face of threats to our safety and well-being.

A dependable bond among neighbors will be necessary to address food security and other essential needs. But, most of us do not know our neighbors and cannot now depend on them.  We might not even have introduced ourselves to those we see regularly on the street or in the grocery store.

Our natural inclination to be independent and avoid troublesome arrangements has led to the widespread loss of civil society and trustworthy relationships. There have been few compelling reasons for Americans to seek meaningful community with our neighbors.  Yet, when things stop working we will have no one to depend on except each other.

If we are to find security in a crisis, it will be necessary to learn patience, and a range of practical interpersonal, organizational, and technical skills.

Most of us can learn how to grow food, or at least to work with others who do.  But, as the crisis deepens we will discover necessities we did not see coming. Organizing our lives without electricity or safe drinking water or a functional sewage system will require that we cooperate to solve problems, and sometimes solve them quickly.

It will be this personal engagement with one another, forced by hard realities, which will bring Americans together where we belong – as responsible citizens and dependable neighbors.

Hiding under a rock might feel like a good idea in a shooting war, but it will not lead to the kind of world most of us want to live in.

Tom

Dear readers, please look for the next post on or about May 2.

Stability Begins with Constructive Action

The deterioration of social order taking place around us raises increasing concerns about security in our local communities.  Growing instability is impacting businesses and institutions as well as individuals and families.

As I observed in the previous post, our safety and well-being will ultimately depend on the stability and dependability of the conditions we put in place around us.

Stability and security are mutually reinforcing, but without stability any effort to increase security is futile.  Stability makes our efforts to create security possible, and it benefits from those efforts.

It is natural to think that security must come first, but actually it is the other way around. The key to security is effective community and the value of our personal investments in each other.

The first priority for any stable community is the strength of interpersonal relationships. These form the basis for trust, for good communication and effective problem-solving.

Dependable community depends on dependable relationships.

Americans are used to thinking of security as the responsibility of trained professionals who are expected to deal with emergencies.  That is because we have been accustomed to stable institutions and dependable systems.

This may not always be true.  Things we have taken for granted in the past could become major concerns – if we are not prepared for them.

Food security is a good example.  Supermarkets typically limit their distribution centers to a three-day supply.  If the supply chain is disrupted and their vendors are unable to deliver, we are in trouble.

Unless we can imagine what’s coming, the interruption of systems we take for granted will catch us off guard.  A systemic disruption could be caused by a cyber-attack on the banking system or national grid, a global monetary crisis, an Ebola-type epidemic, or any number of other threats.

These are not unreasonable possibilities.

In my view, we would do well to think about the implications – from public health defenses and emergency medicine to the need for a cash economy.  Building dependable networks of support among neighboring communities will also be wise.

Learning how to work effectively in groups will be key to ensuring dependable conditions.  This calls for new personal skills. Group decision-making and resolving interpersonal conflicts need not be traumatic ordeals, if we have acquired the necessary tools.

We are quite capable of preparing ourselves if we are ready to learn.

I have written of the importance of such virtues as trustworthiness, dependability, and responsibility.  These probably make sense to you.  But, I have also introduced concepts that might be unfamiliar, including what I call “constructive action”, and the idea that stability is not possible without forward motion.

Why are constructive action and forward motion so indispensable?

Think of it this way: Keeping ones’ balance while riding a bicycle requires forward motion.  In any community, business, or organization, activity guided by purpose serves a similar function.  No social group can sustain coherence or mutual respect without applying itself to a common purpose.

We will address two considerations as we consolidate our communities: What we do and how we do it.  The concept of constructive action concerns the “how”.  It is a way we can work together effectively.  And, it has a direct bearing on security.

To put it very simply, constructive action is about being constructive rather than destructive, encouraging rather than tearing down, freeing rather than oppressing.

A constructive approach requires a positive attitude and will contribute to improved safety and well-being.  Destructive actions and a negative attitude will set us back, the results of emotional reaction rather than rational purposefulness.

One leads toward the ends we seek; the other pushes us farther away.

Agreeing on a shared purpose (or several) is also essential.  In this way we can test group decision-making tools and come to know each other as friends and allies.

Shared purpose is a lens through which community needs will come into focus, and the efforts of diverse personalities can be coordinated.  Shared purpose provides standards by which a community can determine priorities and measure progress.

With patience and willpower each of us can learn how to this meaningfully.  And, a positive attitude will support rational thinking and a constructive way forward.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about April 19.

In the Crucible of Crisis

The extraordinary challenges confronting the American people mark a turning point and an unambiguous test of America’s place in history.

For more than two hundred years the United States has stood before the world as a beacon of hope, a source of creative imagination and ingenuity, and as a singular model of political freedom, social diversity, and economic vitality.

In the cauldron of crisis it is easy to forget the unparalleled historic meaning of the United States, and the role it has played and will continue to play in the progress of an ever-advancing civilization.

Yet, our confidence in the future is shaken by abandoned responsibility and collapsing institutions.  Our economic well-being and social coherence as a nation have been weakened, and the generosity of spirit for which Americans have long been known has faded.

As we begin a new year, I am stepping away from recent topics to revisit the central theme of this blog and forthcoming book.

Most of my posts are adapted from a working manuscript.  They usually appear on alternating Fridays here at http://www.freedomstruth.net – and at facebook.com/freedomstruth.  You will find a project description on this page, an introduction to the book, and drafts of several chapters.

My question is this:  Is there a diverse and loyal core of American citizens who possess the will and the vision to refine our shared identity as a nation at this great turning point?

The turning point I speak of is not political.  It is social and economic, defined by crises and brought on by lack of foresight and the abandonment of moral responsibility over many years.

I believe this is a critical moment; a time to consider our identity as a people.

Are we prepared to stand firm amidst chaotic disruptions and rise above our differences to seek a common understanding and vision – an “American idea”?

My message is brief.  It will be short on analytical detail and will avoid blame.  There is more than enough blame to go around and we all know about it.

Rather, it will focus on the essentials of mind and attitude, of moral character, and of our relationships with one another that will be required to go forward – to turn despair into courage and failure into honor and self-respect.

The book will acknowledge certain past mistakes and failures of responsibility. We will briefly consider the manner in which we have gradually abandoned control over our lives, making ourselves vulnerable to the present circumstances.

However, it will do so not to fix blame, but for the purpose of understanding the steps required to build a stable future we can all accept and believe in.

We all yearn for a less partisan and more civil national discourse. Let us accept that diverse views are needed, however divergent they may be, if we are to identify effective solutions.  Practical problem-solving best occurs with input from varied perspectives.

In the present dangerously fragile context, priority must go to ensuring the safety and well-being of our families and communities.  This will depend on trustworthiness and teamwork despite our differences.

There can be no freedom without trust.  And, we cannot begin to build trust or address the larger issues in our future without first securing stable local forums in which to dialog, strategize and collaborate.

Is this really possible?  Yes, but only with great patience, a commitment to justice, and an effort to envision the end in the beginning.

The United States has gained its vitality from our diversity and the creative engagement found in the clash of differing opinions.

I will not ask you to alter your views, but to listen, understand, and debate.  Our differences must not be permitted to subvert the unity of purpose that defines us as a nation.

At a time of extraordinary existential threat we are confronted with a stark choice.

Will we seek the ideal made possible by the United States Constitution?  Will we defend and protect two hundred years of commitment, hard work, and sacrifice by generations of Americans who have given their lives to this unprecedented vision?

Or, will we give way to the emotions of uncompromising partisanship – and allow a great trust to pass away?

Tom

Dear readers, you can support this project by suggesting that your friends and associates take a look.  Constructive feedback is much appreciated.  Please expect the next post on or about January 12.

Why the Bankers Are Trapped

Few seem to grasp that we have arrived at an historic turning point: a nation and a world confronted with profound structural change.  The hope to recover the past will not be helpful. We must pick ourselves up, hit the reset button, and respond to a rapidly changing reality.

I cannot accept assumptions about political policies or intentions without asking practical questions. I want to understand a complex transition that is having an immense impact on us all.

There are many aspects to the changes we are experiencing, some with immediate implications, others longer-term.  To seek solutions we must recognize structural change.

I have given attention to the continuing financial crisis in recent posts because I believe that is where the closest danger lies.

So, I begin here with a financial question with structural implications: Why is the Federal Reserve unable to return the economy to some semblance of fairness and order? Or, to put it another way: Why have our financial liabilities not been corrected since the crisis in 2008?

The short answer is that they want to believe they are dealing with a cyclical crisis rather than a structural crisis.  Again, why?

Because the truth represents an unbearable existential threat.

Here we find a powerful example of the problems presented by structural change.

The economy has shifted into a long-term deflationary trend, which presents banks and governments with an impossible situation.

I refer you again to James Rickards’ best-selling book, “The Death of Money: The Coming Collapse of the International Monetary System”.  A monetary economist and former banker, Rickards has been advising the Pentagon and CIA concerning financial warfare and terrorism.

Using simple math, Rickards’ explains how, “in effect, the impact of declining prices [deflation] more than offsets declining nominal growth [GDP] and therefore produces real growth.”

Most of us would think this is a good thing.

He writes: “Despite possible real growth, the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve fear deflation more than any other economic outcome. Deflation means a persistent decline in price levels for goods and services. Lower prices allow for a higher living standard even when wages are constant, because consumer goods cost less. This would seem to be a desirable outcome, based on advances in technology and productivity that result in certain products dropping in price over time….”

Why is the Federal Reserve so fearful of deflation that it resorts to extreme measures to oppose it? Rickards gives us four reasons.

First, deflation has a severe impact on government debt: “U.S. debt is at a point where no feasible combination of real growth and taxes will finance repayment…. But if the Fed can cause inflation…, the debt will be manageable because it will be repaid in less valuable nominal dollars. In deflation, the opposite occurs, and the real value of the debt increases….”

Second, deflation impacts the debt-to-GDP ratio, causing foreign creditors to lose confidence in the dollar and demand higher interest rates. This is an urgent problem because the debt is continually increasing. Budget deficits require new financing, and interest payments are already being financed with new debt.

Third, deflation is a major problem for banks. As Rickards’ puts it, “deflation increases money’s real value and therefore increases the real value of lenders’ claims on debtors…. But as deflation progresses, the real weight of the debt becomes too great, and debtor defaults surge.”

The fourth problem with deflation is about taxes. When a worker receives a raise, the additional income is subject to taxes. But, if the cost of living drops by the same amount, the worker in effect receives the same raise and the government cannot tax it.

“In summary,” writes Rickards, “the Federal Reserve prefers inflation because it erases government debt, reduces the debt-to-GDP ratio, props up banks, and can be taxed.”

“Deflation may help consumers and workers,” he says, “but it hurts the Treasury and the banks…. The consequence of these deflationary dynamics is that the government must have inflation, and the Fed must cause it. The dynamics amount to a historic collision between the natural forces of deflation and the government’s need for inflation.”

Such are the challenges of structural change.

Tom

Note to readers: You can support this blog and the book project by suggesting that your friends and associates take a look.  And, watch for the next post on or about November 3.

When Money Dies

Americans experienced a major financial crisis in 2007-8.  Some would argue that it began far earlier, and clearly it is ongoing today.  We may be more aware of this crisis than others because it confronts us daily.  In preparing for what is to come, we would do well to listen to those who saw it coming and who continue to warn of its’ inevitable consequences.

Beyond all the foolishness and greed running rampant in the financial world, one great threat hangs over our future more than any other: The greatest expansion of debt the world has ever seen.  This is in large part due to non-stop deficit spending by governments.  Corporate borrowing has recently exploded similarly.

However, we need to understand that this has been made possible by a credit-based monetary system.  Easy access to credit, which is money created out of thin air, has led to the belief that credit is wealth.  This fantasy has infected society from top to bottom.

When a credit-based monetary system functions the way central bankers wish, the money supply should expand only slightly faster than economic growth.  Enough additional money must be created to cover the growing cost of servicing the expanding debt.

But, since 2008 the central bank (which we call the Federal Reserve) has expanded the monetary base almost four-fold while the economy has grown very little.

They call this “money”, but it is mostly debt.

The arrangement is extremely profitable for banks and the wealthy elite.  It allows for all kinds of mischievousness.  And, it depends on inflation, which is a long-term problem for the rest of us.  If it sounds to you like a Ponzi scheme, you are not alone.

In managing the money supply to avoid the growing threat of another banking crisis, the Federal Reserve has facilitated repetitive cycles of booms and busts, each more severe than the last.  This has perpetuated major social and economic distortions and dislocations.  It has stifled any possibility of restoring normalcy to the lives of ordinary Americans.

The economy has not been permitted to return to a normal and balanced condition.  Nothing has been fixed.  Extremely low interest rates have encouraged rapid growth of corporate and government debt, so the situation has been steadily worsening.

At such extreme levels, there are only two paths forward: default or devaluation.

Debt must default and be liquidated before economic productivity can recover.  But, the immediate pain of bankruptcy is too great for the bankers and policy-makers to bear. Consequently, they are struggling to gradually devalue the currency in relation to the cost of goods and services.

The government hopes desperately to meet the nominal cost of Social Security, Medicare, and other long-term budgetary obligations without defaulting.  This means the value of the dollar must fall significantly.

By altering the method of measuring price inflation, rising prices have been masked and social security payments held to a minimum.  Only those who live in the real world know the truth.

The devaluation of currencies is taking place around the world as budget deficits grow. Central banks attempt to minimize the interest costs of huge debt loads, while at the same time trying to avoid the failure of banking institutions that depend on interest rates.

Monetary economist and former banker, James Rickards, has written that “financial crises have supplanted kinetic warfare at the center of complex system dynamics. Financial crises in 1998 and 2008… are warnings – tremors ahead of a misfortune beyond imagining.” (“The Road to Ruin”, 2016, p.204)

The consequences of all this are profound and unpredictable.  We face a deepening crisis that will exaggerate all others, severely limiting the capacity of businesses to grow and create jobs, undermining our standard of living, and making it impossible to address pressing needs without worsening monetary instability.

The dependability of a productive, self-sustaining economy has been sacrificed to the tyranny of selfish interests.

Strangely, however, the wealthy elite have behaved like parasites that destroy their host.  They have wrecked the healthy economy upon which their profits depend.  And they have exposed themselves, as well as the rest of us, to the evaporating value of credit-based money.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about October 6.  We will take a look at the problem of complexity, and the realities of financial markets and other systems that have vastly exceeded the human capacity to fully understand or control.

Civil Society and American History

We find ourselves now at a turning point, confronted by the consequences of the past and the anger and confusion of the present.  Yet, this is an opportunity – a time that calls for clarity of purpose, and for coming to terms with the history that brought us here.

It is not political change that I speak of, but a far more profound transition.  We are confronted with questions of principle, of values, of the meaning of moral responsibility.

Such concerns often come into sharper focus amidst disruption and conflict.

Answers do not come easily, but history leaves silent lessons etched in our national experience.

In my view, we have lost a sense of purpose, and thus the conceptual framework upon which rational judgment depends.  This has made us vulnerable both to our own vices and to the predatory interests and manipulative power of institutions that know our weaknesses.

We have indulged ourselves increasingly over time in our attraction to meaningless spectacle and thoughtless voyeurism – a wasteland of sex, violence, greed and materialism.

In his recent book, The Great Degeneration, economic historian Niall Ferguson provides a persuasive view of what has come to pass in the United States.  He considers four areas in which the degeneration of values and loss of social stability have had devastating consequences.

In my own words these are: 1) the loss of personal and social responsibility, 2) the disintegration of the market economy, 3) the role of the rule of law, and 4) the essential qualities of civil society.

Dr. Ferguson reminds us of past strengths, and in particular the vigorous civil and cultural life of nineteenth century America.

“I want to ask,” he writes, “how far it is possible for a truly free nation to flourish in the absence of the kind of vibrant civil society we used to take for granted?  I want to suggest that the opposite of civil society is uncivil society, where even the problem of anti-social behavior becomes a problem for the state.”

He goes on to cite Alexis de Tocqueville from his famous commentary, Democracy in America, published in 1840:

“America is, among the countries of the world, the one where they have taken most advantage of association and where they have applied that powerful mode of action to a greater diversity of objects.

“Independent of the permanent associations created by law under the names of townships, cities and counties, there is a multitude of others that owe their birth and development only to the individual will.

“The inhabitant of the United States learns from birth that he must rely on himself to struggle against the evils and obstacles of life; he has only a defiant and restive regard for social authority and he appeals to its authority only when he cannot do without it….

“In the United States, they associate for the goals of public security, of commerce and industry, of morality and religion.  There is nothing the human will despairs of attaining by the free action of the collective power of individuals.”

Dr. Ferguson writes that “Tocqueville saw America’s political associations as an indispensable counterweight to the tyranny of the majority in modern democracy.  But it was the non-political associations that really fascinated him.”

Consider Tocqueville’s description:

Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite.  Not only do they have commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but they also have a thousand other kinds: religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small; Americans use associations to give fêtes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books…. Finally, if it is a question of bringing to light a truth or developing a sentiment with the support of great example, they associate.”

What happened?  Once upon a time Americans succeeded in overcoming the constraints to freedom through their own initiative and a sense of community.

Today inaction has replaced action.  A once vibrant culture of engagement has been replaced by a self-centered attitude and the isolating influences of technology, mass media, and corporate society.

Will we recreate what we once did so well?  Shall we rebuild the American spirit and character to meet the challenges ahead?

Tom

A Note to Readers: A project description and a draft introduction to the book can be found on this page.  Please look for the next post on or about March 10.