Values, Justice and Economics

The word “economy” comes from the ancient Greek word meaning “household management.” It is hardly surprising that so much of our lives – from the means to make a living to civil order and social stability – depends on a well-functioning economy.

Yet, who exactly is managing this “household”?

We need governance that is geared to serving the best interests of society.  And while our ‘best interests’ may be a matter of debate, we depend on those people in positions of responsibility for honesty and foresight.

The nature and functioning of a civilized society depend on trust.  And trust appears to be in short supply in the digital systems and human thinking that facilitate global finance today.

Americans cannot raise families or plan for the future without consistent and dependable conditions, whether physical, social, or economic.

Businesses cannot expand or take on risks without confidence in the consistency of law and government policies, and in the unhindered price-discovery mechanism of the marketplace.

In short, we need our economy to be managed in the interests of the American people as a whole, rather than for certain groups.

However, the difficulties we face involve more than a simple problem of personal and institutional trust.

Leadership needs to acknowledge the uncomfortable fact that it is not possible to control everything in reality, even with the best of intentions.  Indeed, growing complexity leaves little possibility for constructive change without new thinking.

Economist John Taylor’s 2012 book, “First Principles”, argues persuasively that the arbitrary application of discretionary policies has led to inevitable economic imbalances and distortions that feed upon themselves.

However, it appears his recommendations will not protect us from the current anarchy of global finance or the massive distortions that now prevail.  It is difficult to see how the economy can escape the control of people who cannot admit their errors or bear to face the pain of changing course.

Short of another major financial crisis, I do not see this changing.

Central bankers will either abandon the illusion of control and the hubris of the past, or their assurance will be wrenched from their hands when reality reasserts itself.

Leaders of government will either awake to the truth or they will find themselves helpless before a calamity of unprecedented proportions.

The coming transition will be painful and frightening, because great destabilized forces must rebalance themselves.  The extraordinary excesses of recent decades will be wrung from a shuddering world.

An instability reaped by ego, greed, and massive indebtedness has infected both the mind and spirit of the nation.

What does this mean for ordinary Americans?

Americans do have recourse, but let’s be realistic: We will not be saved by self-styled leaders who think they know it all.  We’ve been there and done that.  Rather, we must rise above our differences as individuals, build local community, and commit ourselves to a principled integrity.

And, when the ground moves beneath our feet we must trust in the decision-making structure of the Constitution of the United States.

The national economy, when understood as “household management”, involves far more than budgeting and finances.  It requires leadership with a conscious attitude of responsibility, who care about the “household” and the people in it.

It calls for freedoms that are obstructed or denied to real people – citizens of limited means.

Some readers will be uncomfortable with the concept of “love” when applied to economics.  OK; so let’s call it respectful caring or compassionate understanding or common decency.

Whatever we call it, nothing else will guide us home.

The principles to provide the foundation for the future will be those that facilitate both respectfulness and problem-solving.  Genuine community can only be based on the values of true civilization: honesty, trustworthiness, ethical integrity and moral responsibility.

When we fully embrace these values, the economy will reconfigure itself according to just principles.  Only then will our lives find stability and renewal.

Healing will take time.  But rest assured: the economy will reboot.

Tom

Note to readers: I will be taking a brief break to travel in the coming weeks.  Please watch for the next post after February 7.  Drafts of two additional chapters of the coming book have been posted on this site.  Please see links at the top of the homepage.

The Forward Edge of History

The vision of America that came to life with the birth of the nation was historic.  That vision, controversial as it then was, has been subverted today by a bitter divisiveness that disallows dialog and obstructs decision-making.

Our efforts to regain the integrity of our national identity and to build a future we can believe in, will call on Americans to navigate through currents of alienation, hostility, and misinformation.

Violence begets violence in a downward spiral, verbal or otherwise. Words can ignite uncontrollable fires.  And, dishonest or self-serving actions can do the same.  Destructiveness can take many forms.

Arguably, the United States has been headed for trouble for decades.  But, in the last quarter century social and economic conditions have reached dysfunctional extremes of miscommunication, irresponsibility, and violence.

When the banking system nearly collapsed in 2008, the United States hovered on the edge of material catastrophe.  Americans discovered that failures of responsibility, foresight, and common sense involved the very people and institutions we depended on.

We were stunned by the foolishness that came to light in places where we are most vulnerable.

It was a startling discovery: A cavalier disregard for the interests of both citizens and nation by institutions we had previously regarded as models of dependability.

In retrospect, however, we can see that the crisis had been a long time coming – that it continues today, that nothing has been fixed, and that it reveals far more than foolishness.

The disarray is surely the consequence of something deeper and more basic than financial incompetence.

National leadership has stained itself.  Confidence was compromised, trust destroyed, first in politics, then among institutions and interests that have associated too closely with politics.

We have seen immoral and deeply hurtful actions committed by religious leaders and clergy, the supposed exemplars of integrity.

Where will it stop?  In addition to the material damage done to our lives, the rampant failure of responsibility appearing at the core of our society is degrading and demoralizing.

There is nothing more destructive than distrust.  Indeed, it strikes at the foundations of civilization.

Times of peril require that we avoid contributing to inflamed passions, however offended we may be.  Hurled accusations and insults make it impossible for others to listen and hear reason.

The trouble with blame is, first, that it tends to be indiscriminate. It blinds us to the complexity of circumstances, and to the plural identities of those who disagree with us – or who may have just made some very bad mistakes.

We often fail to see that we share certain values and commitments with those who anger us.

Secondly, blaming blinds us to looming perils that are the fault of no one.  A fierce storm has come upon us.  We need each other for the sake of our local communities.

A storm of this magnitude will alter everyone’s perspective.  The time is coming when we will need to reassess, to adjust, and to seek safety in collaboration.

We must resist fear and its passions, and learn to work with those around us.  We will build from there.

Some of you have expressed serious doubts that this is possible.

I never said it would be easy; I said we have no choice.

If we are unable to confront crises shoulder-to-shoulder as loyal Americans, freedom will be lost in the chaos of the deepening storm.

This will require patience and learned skills.  We must try to see the end in the beginning – the vision of a renewed society where respectfulness, fairness, and moral responsibility prevail.

Both individual freedom and community coherence depend on this.

It is a purpose that might just be worth our learning to get along, even for the most doubtful among us.

Local communities are the one place where we can be assured of having the freedom and ability to make this happen.

Steadfast determination and the American generosity of spirit are among the virtues that will be called upon again and again in the coming days.

The future will inflict tests upon us whether or not we respond with dignity and compassion – whether or not we take our rightful place at the forward edge of history.

Tom

A note to readers:  Please watch for the next post on or about December 31.  New readers can find a project description, a draft introduction to the coming book, and drafts of several early chapters at the top of the home page.

Freedom and Limitation

While we might think of freedom as the opportunity to do as we please, some say it is the opportunity to do what is right.  But, why not do as we please?  And, who decides what is right?

Freedom is a deep and compelling need felt by everyone.  What is it about us that we feel the longing for freedom at the very core of our being?  Why the emotional intensity of these questions?

The awareness of personal freedom is a felt-need, an essential aspect of human consciousness, and we yearn to act on it.  The perception of freedom is a human capacity that transcends the physical senses.

Animals are tied unalterably to the requirements of nature, environment, and species; but not people.  The horizons of the human mind – perception, introspection, imagination and memory – extend in every direction without apparent limitation.

This is a consciousness that provides us with boundless creative power.  Creativity is intrinsic to our character, and together with free will it defines our humanity.

However, the feeling of freedom comes into immediate conflict with the finite limitations of the world around us, and, indeed, with the finiteness of our own being.

We have been given free will and are yet confronted with a physical universe and constrained by the limits of nature and social necessity.

Free will is all about choice.  Whatever we choose to do, we could just as well choose not to do.  Yet we find free will colliding with the limits and necessities of a finite existence, both physical and social.

Our responses to the challenges of limitation determine the quality and integrity of our lives.  The conflict between our capacity for freedom and the world in which we find ourselves has purpose.

Without choice in the encounter with limitation, there could be no morality and no civilized order.  Without the capacity for freedom there would be no need for personal responsibility or discipline.

Creativity and productivity require self-conscious discipline.  Personal growth and maturity require responsibility, problem-solving, and the tests of hardship.

We understand that the constraints imposed on us by society are mostly necessary, if not always fair, and provide order and predictability in an otherwise chaotic world.  The limits of the natural world impose themselves even more exactly.

Yet, we do not feel fully human if we are prevented from seeking our own way.   Every limitation chafes against our yearning and our dreams.

As human beings, we possess the distinctive ability to step outside ourselves to perceive ourselves and our relationships in context.  So it is that we can recognize and interpret our relationships to family, society, and the physical environment.

Further, we are able to perceive and judge the personal qualities of spirit and character that make us who we are as individuals.

This ability allows us to explore the mysteries and majesties of the human spirit both inwardly and outwardly, such that our personal perspective transcends ourselves and our condition.

When the dimensions of valid action are violated, the errors of pride, self-righteousness and illusory obsessions take control.  And in the end, neither our finite qualities as human beings nor the necessities of the world around us will yield to arrogance or poor judgment.

This fact is a given when we enter the world, and it is a unique distinction of the human condition.  The collision of free will with necessity defines character and integrity – personally, socially, historically.

Our freedom opens worlds of potentiality to us, but without moral responsibility and discipline it will spell trouble.  We must choose: either to accept the reality embedded in the implicate order, or to disrupt the equilibrium and invite disorder.

I submit to you that true justice is determined by an unrelenting order in the world we are given.  It is the necessity embedded in the way things are.

Yes, we can violate the boundaries, but only at our peril.

Tom#define