Forum on Economic Reform
In recent decades the alliance of neoclassical economics and neoliberalism has hijacked the term “economic reform”. By presenting political choices as market necessities, they have subverted public debate about what economic policy changes are possible and are or are not desirable. This venue promotes discussion of economic reform that is not limited to the one ideological point of view.
Greed (Part II)
Julian Edney (1)
© Copyright: Julian Edney 2002-2005
An essay concerning the origins, nature, extent and morality of this destructive force in free market economies. Definitions. Paradoxes and omissions in Adam Smith's original theory permit - encourage - greed without restraint so that in a very large society [USA] over two centuries it has become an undemocratic force creating precipitous inequalities; divisions in this society now approach a kind of wealth apartheid, and our values are quite unlike Smith's: this is an immensely wealthy society but it is not a humane society. Wealth and poverty are connected, in fact recent sociological theory shows our institutions routinely design inequality in, but this connection is largely avoided in texts and in the media, as is the notion that greed is a moral wrong. Problems created by greed cannot be solved by technology. We are also distracted by already-outdated environmental rhetoric, arguments that scarcities and human suffering follow from abuse of our ecology. Rather, these scarcities are the result of what people do to people. This focus opens practical solutions.
Part I of Greed appeared in the last issue of this journal and is available at http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue%2031/Edney31.htm
What drives this society? We proudly answer that what fuels people in this nation [USA] is a competitive drive to be better. The obvious result is inequality, because the intention is inequality. Competition deserves a closer look.
Anthropologist Ruth Benedict summarized her overseas work saying the most obvious difference among societies was whether the living was cooperative or competitive. This was the 1930s. She used the term synergy. A high synergy society is socially cohesive, cooperative and unaggressive - one person’s acts at the same time serve his own advantage and that of the group, his gain results in a gain for all. But cultures with low synergy are highly competitive and the individual gains advantage only at the expense of another, aggression is prized, indeed humor originates from one person’s victory and another’s demolition. Low synergy eventually threatens the social fabric. Her example was the Dobu of New Guinea, whose daily atmosphere of ill will and treachery among all made it a showcase of Hobbesean nastiness, and feared among its neighboring tribes. The Dobu have no chiefs, no government, no legalities and live very close to the "state of nature" philosophers propose. Danger is at its height within the tribe, not from without, and the attitude lives that it is prudent and right to inflict pain on losers to protect your win. Hierarchy is based on ruthlessness which is admired, and inequality and injustice are believed to be in the nature of things 43.
Benedict pointed out the world’s societies can be arranged on a continuum from those with the highest synergy to those with the lowest.
In our own society, we love competition and we promote inequality. A team of sociologists headed by C.S. Fisher 44 has recently tightened this argument with a treatise that first attacks the Bell Curve explanation that inherited differences in IQ and natural talent can be used to explain our unequal fortunes. They summarily deny the economist's claim that inequality fosters economic growth. Third, they state, our inequalities are by design, and they are growing. The result is that in the last twenty years we have become a steeply hierarchical society, and this is with popular support. We are choosing inequality through government economic policies that chronically distributed wealth unfairly.
Clearly our own society has lower synergy than we boast - and it’s falling.
Simply, any free market culture that would rather create a market in a resource than have abundance for all is creating inequality as it goes. But so long as we can attribute unhappiness to global limits, or to inherited individual differences, then nature is to blame. We can hoist a paradox. We can both have our levels of misery and congratulate ourselves on our modern attitudes and on a humane society.
Manipulation of Hope
That last hypocrisy is researched by two Yale scholars, Guido Calabresi and Philip Bobbitt 45 who argue we practice inequality everywhere while pretending to equality (it is so close to our notion of justice). This subversion requires a nest of contradictory customs, a shell game designed to help us avoid and deny the moral consequences. And a retreat to other standards: sometimes, conceding inequalities, we will go through contortions to show that at least we are humane. The cost of all this, of course, is honesty.
Calabresi and Bobbitt argue that instead of universal abundance, there is perpetual scarcity. We calibrate it so. Society oscillates between two kinds of decisions. A first order decision is how much to produce or allow of a desirable good, and a second order decision is who shall get it. If this process were obvious, we would be outraged at the insight that there is needless suffering, because the scarcity is man made. Whether the desirable good is shelter, life-saving medical treatment, an education, or decent treatment by the police, we simultaneously manage the perception that all is well when in fact it is well with only a fraction of the population. Seeing certain medications or (in war) draft-deferments only go to the rich, or seeing that with our aggregate wealth, poverty need not exist, we search for reasons that suffering comes to some people but not others. The focus becomes methods of allocation. The central insight is to see that allocation by itself is an act signifying inequality. We realize certain methods of allocation are "acceptable," meaning they do not morally offend, for instance, the free market method acceptably allocates hunger because it decentralizes choice into individual decisions, and we can blame the hungry person. So this distracts from the scarcity itself. And hope is preserved. But each allocation method is rather arbitrary. We wonder if, keeping the same overall percentages, poverty could just as well be allocated by lottery. The market does not acceptably allocate the draft, so we have to shift to another method of allocating that inequality. Mistakes in choosing allocation method pull back the curtain on the fact of the original scarcities, creating fear and outrage. But the reality is, the scarcity of doctors, on whom lives depend, is a result of a human decision how many to train - and not a limitation of Earth's carrying capacity.
While we are uncomfortable with the fact that the market runs an "acceptable" number of auto deaths, cancer fatalities, or hungry four-year-olds, it allows us to explain each case as personal misfortune. It will appear there is no other choice, and our morality is preserved. So while we believe in a strong, happy society, brimming with progress and good for all its people, we get daily news hinting at our less-civilized status. The facts are, shelters for battered women are always crowded, fear permeates some schools, barbarism spreads in our prisons, and in some precincts it is becoming harder to distinguish police behavior from that of criminals. Calabresi and Bobbit continue this argument describing a societal device we use in huge efforts to preserve this contradiction.
The perception of humaneness is crucial. It tells us our system is both strong and good; otherwise glimpses of inhumanity are a dangerous hint that things are not working. Two examples: some years ago, a million dollars was spent on the rescue of a single downed balloonist in a dramatic, highly publicized race of helicopters and boats. The drama proved our humanity. We make massive efforts for someone in distress. What was never publicized was the chronic underbudgeting of the Coast Guard which otherwise would make such rescues routine. In a second example, heroic amounts were spent to rescue prisoners from a fire in a penitentiary. But what was never revealed is that the prison's scarce medical resources meant hundreds of others routinely went without treatment or died at other times. This type of rare and heavily publicized humane event, fed to a sensation-hungry press, creates a "sufficiency paradox", an "illusion of sufficiency" 46 that the goodness is there for us all. Generalized, this creates the illusion of abundance. The media deal in demonstrations of sudden and spectacular humanity. But for every person who gets the rare benefit, many others do not. A life-saving kidney goes to one of several people in need, and the life-taking decision about the others is not publicized. The "illusion of sufficiency" device massively confuses possibility with probability but on a societal level, it is a media-promoted and effective manipulation of hope.
We too use Potemkin villages.
What about all the people who lose to scarcity? People hate themselves for failing, but unless society is honest, they must absorb the original scarcity plus the anguish of not knowing how they failed and not knowing what to do. To the loser the frustration and humiliation of not knowing why, creates "the Kafkaesque cost of being in a process without knowing how to help oneself" 47. If people compared our national inequities in wealth with the insight that, through decided levels of scarcity, the aggregate amount of suffering is controlled, public emotion could erupt.
Calabresi and Bobbitt's point is that we must keep examining our values. Equality and honesty are prime values. But in these machinations, they are chronically opposed. We must chose honesty, then we can begin the struggle to reclaim our real humanity.
Next we bring into this mix the vastly wealthy American transnational corporation.
Businesses exist to make profit. Corporations are a type of business association, ones with special legal powers and durability. They have been a usual part of the business environment since the fifteenth century. International corporations were the muscle behind European colonization in the second half of the last millennium, but in that era of horse and sail, their power was a fraction of what it is today. Some corporations have now grown gigantic, actually becoming global forces with more power and resources than some countries.
Actually the largest corporations derive power not only from wealth but because they can fluidly migrate to whichever nation offers the least legal restraints, the cheapest labor, the most amenable economies and the friendliest politics. In this sense they float above the world's constraints.
But as a rule American corporations differ sharply from the nation which hosts them. They are alien to the notion of democratic responsiveness, internal or external. In the universe of corporations everything focuses on the acquisition of resources, labor, and markets. These are the sources of power. Inside corporations Equality hides her face.
Corporations are not elected, so they are concerned with nobody's approval. Aside from occasional shareholder meetings, they never ask the public for ideas or permission. Nor do the workers elect their leaders. Inside, most business corporations are steeply hierarchical structures, in which employees' freedom to do what they want is openly bought for the wage. They are not responsive to the will of those they employ; some have inner dynamics that are feudal; some of their hierarchies are also jungles of dysfunction. In democratic America most corporations are iridescent examples of autocracy, thriving on soil where the Constitution guarantees everybody's freedom and equality.
Nevertheless, the overwhelming portion of our population denies any problem. Charles Derber, among several writing on this topic, believes there are specific reasons we don't even think about corporations. First, we are all educated to look elsewhere, for instance to unchecked government, as the primary threat to freedom. Second corporations make and sell our creature comforts, so we can't tamper with them without threatening our prosperity. Third, we feel powerless. The concentration of corporate power is inverse to people's feelings of personal power. Fourth, we see no alternative 48.
Powers without Obligation
If wealth is the only standard we use to judge, then we have to admit corporations are staggering successes and everything to venerate. They absorb people's lives. We consume their products daily, use their services hourly, rely on them for information. We are dependent. We compete to work in them.
What protects them is that we are taught the system is rational. We are also taught that the goodness of a society depends on how well its topmost members are doing, so the higher our topmost members, the more they are discussed with awe.
The natural foe of corporations is government. But international corporations are so wealthy they slide over governments. They have become like tourists in their own country. As they lose national loyalties, they come close to becoming powers without obligation. As the largest transnational corporations grow, they become sovereign and untouchable 49.
The Corporate Personality
Roughly there are, I suppose, two kinds of people. The first divides the world into Good versus Bad. The second divides the world into the Strong versus Weak. These two types never can communicate. Among the latter, the concern is never to be caught weak because hell takes the hindmost, and among them all talk about goodness and ethics is irrelevant, and every effort is given to staying strong. This second type infests corporations. They are refractory to talk of humanity and you can shout all you want and they will not listen; every ounce of their attention is given to their competition.
Their rules of engagement are Darwinian.
Large scale competition among these massive corporations is what upgrades
greed from whimsical excess to lethal force.
Two Areas of Corporate Control
First, Christopher Lasch points out that private universities depend on corporations, through investments, grants, or otherwise; and wherever their money is used, corporations influence state universities too. Consequently you will find free discussion on university campuses on almost any topic but one. Academic debate is not used to deconstruct the corporations that feed them.
The second important area of control is corporation ownership of the media.
Through corporate competition, we now live in a system in which a few colossal media conglomerates dominate the news outlets. A typical conglomerate owns film studios, television studios, publishing houses, retail outlets, theaters, newspapers, music studios, cable channels, and in some cases, amusement parks. This oligopoly of conglomerates is small. It has overwhelming financial power, and it is not responsive to the will of the public.
Corporations exist for profit, so the news has become a commercial product. Largely, the same mentality making decisions about entertainment is now making news decisions (and the two, according to Neal Gabler, are increasingly difficult to tell apart 50).
Analyst Robert McChesney 51 says commercialization of the news has been a slowly growing process, starting in the 1840s when it was realized that selling news could actually make an entrepreneur money. Greed rather than journalistic standards took journalism astray in the era of the Yellow Press when stories were written for what sold and all the money came in from readers. Later on, newspaper owners started getting bigger money from advertisers. Nobody objected, because then as now, the myth is that the prime enemy of a free press was the government, that competitive free market capitalism would always keep the media unbiased and democratic.
We do have some control over which media programs we watch. We still can choose among television channels, but the overwhelming majority of channels are commercial, and corporations exert fine-grained control over the consumer's viewing diet. And unlike Canada's and Britain's, America's noncommercial channels are not guaranteed by the government. They depend on grants, charity and viewer contributions. They cannot hope for the stability, size and power of their commercials rivals.
The result? Television news viewers are carpet-bombed with advertising. Advertisers actually survey for the kind of news that is interesting to the viewers who have money to buy products. Advertising firms are so influential that current journalism avoids antagonizing them and politicians avoid antagonizing them. McChesney says their control extends to blacking out certain topics. So while education, drug testing, gay rights, religion are mentioned on commercial television, other topics such as the representativeness of the media system is a topic that is never aired. Social class issues are avoided. If we live in a society of inequality, then we can wonder, every time the television shows us the upper reaches of abundant success, which scenes of poverty have been excised. Programs about the poor are rare.
In effect, says McChesney,"media firms effectively write off the bottom 15-50 percent of society."52
All of which, he continues, is undermining democracy.
Among McChesney's remedies: first, make how the media are used a political issue. Second, a separate 1% tax on advertising would raise substantial revenues (he estimates $1.5 billion annually) which could be used to subsidize the nonprofit media.
We absorb from the television, and that is what advertisers want.
We take advertising seriously. Over a hundred billion dollars is spent annually on advertising. Its goal is to occupy the drive and psyche of the nation with wants, so that the nation will spend.
But the media are doing much more.
It is decided not to show on television the varieties of fear in our rooming houses and alleys where people live in the lowest reaches of poverty. It is decided not to show our hungry people living in tilting rural shacks. Nor the ranks of exhausted faces in city sweatshops. Lost, abject, hostile, desperate, these people's glances are pulled aside by complicit belief that failure is the lot of the damned. These people are quite available for filming and quite imageable. Instead, television is filled with cacophonous distraction.
Contradictions are withheld in the news. For instance, new technology is lionized in commercials. But technology itself is amoral. For example, it is also making torture easier. No one would mythologize the kind of free market where people made profits marketing whips and thumbscrews, but a recent Amnesty International investigation reports that currently more than fifty U.S. companies manufacture equipment like stun belts and shock batons designed specifically for use on humans (these devices inflict great pain but leave little physical evidence) 53. Difficult topics encourage thought, and they take time away from commercials.
War on Logic
Somehow the painful gap that exists between poverty and abundance must be anesthetized. Television is the means. We stuff television reality in the gap. Twenty-four hours every day commercial television is an ongoing polychromatic display of games, short dramas with gunplay and florid sex, perpetually interrupted by iridescent advertisements. Television both provokes fear and promises ecstasy in ultra short attention spans. It feeds a national obsession with beauty, teasing with glossy bodies, glossy cars, luscious scenery.
What is shown in commercials is overflowing abundance, specifically in terms of climactic moments. Now a race is run and now a prize is taken; now a man works for all of a second and a half, then it's time for beers; now all the cooking has been done, and a sumptuous meal is ready 54. The troubling theme is that human effort is noisily trivialized in commercials. This is the narcotic. Television lathers a bright, noisy blur over anything like sustained effort, perseverance, focused long term goals, and over a society with chronic stresses.
The evening news systematically distorts normal time. Downtown riots in Seattle are given less than a minute (some of which is the reporter's talking face), shift to shots of a dog frolicking in a fountain, shift to minutes of a freeway chase. The picturesque is pursued, the serious is trivialized.
These are moves in a war against logic. And if you watch television, you are having your thinking disrupted. The busy-ness of rapid shifts of focus, the effervescent color, the edgy, dramatic music, all make it difficult for viewers to build independent ideas.
But instead of asking what the frenetic distraction is about, we follow suit, with impulse. It's not just that advertisers say, you can solve your problems by drinking our wines or wearing this underwear. It's not just that each product is introduced as if it was the future of mankind. It's that the commercial saturation has been effective. No one mentally argues with the advertising. The real loss is that advertising is now accepted as if it was information.
As with any other drug, we need increasing strengths. The only way to find out what television is doing to you after years of watching is to turn it off for a month. Turn it on again after abstinence, and it seems like a television's bid for our attention is like repeatedly shooting a pistol into a chandelier.
Television also grows neuroses in the corners of its watchers. It grows invidious comparisons in us. Comparison shopping, comparison socializing - eventually we live life by the method of comparisons. Television is carefully producing hordes of viewers who are good at one judgment, namely, whether the neighbor or the person sitting across the room is a little better or a little worse off. This powerful judgment, 'I'm a notch better than he; I'm not quite as attractive as she', is what Alfred Adler diagnosed as a neurotic style 55, with powerful motives to compensate. Television grows envy in us, and the fix is to acquire. The result is a powerful narcissism, and an increase in the rates of depression 56 among watchers who cannot keep up, unable to match their lives to television's perfection.
Greed, like many addictions, is all about the sudden and spectacular. Advertising is passionately decorative, if thin as a billboard. It serves the sudden and spectacular.
Against images of poverty, fear and hunger, television also churns routine optimism into its daily programming. All is delivered in a happy, chatty style. More, each day, television will be noisily emptied out and reinstalled the same.
In a free society, some people's greed inevitably means deprivation for others. This does not require environmental limits, it only requires persistent and competitive self-promotion, and in a vast nation whose economy is two hundred years devoted to these principles, we now inhabit a society with a small fraction of astronomically wealthy individuals towering over a growing mass in poverty. America is arguably now more unequal than any of the original European cultures, yet we cling to and proselytize a horribly outdated economic theory which implies equality but actually delivers more inequality. Greed is the outstanding wrong because it reverses the utilitarian ethic. It produces the greatest good for the smallest number. Democracy's founding virtues are freedom and equality, so greed without restraint, producing great inequalities, becomes an undemocratic force.
This is an amazingly complex economy but we still raise our young on sleeveless country myths. They never explain a market's preferences for ensured scarcities, designed inequalities, and increasingly segregated economic classes. Our schoolbooks teach, after the demise of communism, that there is no superior alternative to Smithian economics. Adherents believe that free market capitalism is the end of history.
The reflexive defense, of course, is that we already have remedies. That we protect our poor with aid and support, that our government provides a safety net for the least fortunate in the form of welfare and food stamp programs.
These programs are a shambling failure. Reports detail the thin efforts of our sprawling agencies to get food to Americans who are now hungry. In California, of the millions who need aid, only 45% of the eligible are able to get food stamps even when they qualify. The other largest states show similar agency breakdowns. The hungry are trying other sources, so demand at food banks is rising 57. But Americans turning to emergency facilities are too often rebuffed. Cities are failing to meet an average of 26 percent of requests for emergency shelter, 30 percent of requests by homeless families. Government safety nets are simply broken, and at this writing some states are cutting back further 58.
We do not properly protect our poor. Decades-long efforts in the Great Society program and the War on Poverty have failed to improve opportunities for the poorest Americans. As an index of our current concern, consider the national allocation for Food Stamps. It stands at 0.0017 of the Federal Budget 59. Already tiny, Federal food assistance allocations actually declined from 1995 to 1999 60.
I'll sketch other options that don't work.
What about private charity? Since droves of homeless people (one quarter of whom are children) still roam the big cities, since we have unfed hungry, and since it has been that way for a long time and is not getting better, private charity has obviously been ineffective. It is too little, or sporadic and unreliable.
What about the churches? Their purpose for existence includes helping the weak and needy. Curious for numbers, I divided the number of homeless (conservatively estimated at 700,000 on any given night, 2 million sometime during the year) by the number of Christian churches. This nation is filled with churches: the World Almanac lists over 330,000 Christian houses of worship 61. If each church took in 6 homeless, there would be no more homelessness. (We are taught that God and money don't mix. But actually the struggle between church and capitalism has always been subtle.)
What about positive thinking? With enough love and trust and hope and unity and sensitivity and inclusiveness, will antisocial greed disappear? Well, we might hope that goliath profiteering corporations will desist in their exploiting, voluntarily come to their knees and want to be part of godly world harmony. But they will not. Universal tolerance will not stop transnational corporations wringing their profit from the sweat of laborers' faces. And these bromides do not create change, just a lot of weary smiles from well wishers. On the topic of attitude, we'll treat smiling rationalizations the same, such as the rationalization that 'greed is the sin that's good for the economy'. This sort of solution is just a delay which will float us over relatively good times. At present we have relatively high employment, so the vast majority of Americans are at least earning some amounts of money. But this is like a tide risen high, which covers all manner of unsightly things on the sea floor. They are not gone. Should the tide go out, they will reappear. Opines business professor Jim Johnson, "If you ask where all this could be heading, in the event of an economic downturn, we could see another 1992 civil unrest." 62.
Stopping the Gap from Becoming Wider
Harvard's John Rawls 63 has a way to repair a whole society skewed into these inequalities. Rawls asserts the misery of some is simply not made acceptable by having a greater good, as proposed by utilitarianism, because that violates the principle of justice. First Rawls insists that in addition to freedom and equality, there must be a prior value in democracy, justice. And that economic rationality and justice should forever be opposed.
Rawls insists on a shift in focus. We should not judge a culture by how its topmost members are doing, but by how it treats its lowest. His solutions follow. First, this society should decide how low any member can go. That establishes minimum rights. It requires we identify the least-advantaged person in society, and draw focus to him. Next, the very op and the very bottom of society should be (and all intermediate levels should be) connected, as if by a loose linked chain. Then if the top rises, it pulls the bottom up with it. If the bottom moves up, that closes the gap toward equality. This arrangement does not prevent any upward rise; but it establishes consequences on movements at the top.
We must look down. Even Business Week pointed out that if the current wave of prosperity recedes, America's many social ills, with hunger and homelessness, could return with a vengeance, editorializing that the Federal Reserve and Congress should be guided in their policy actions by what's happening at the bottom of society, not by the bubble at the top 64.
The mystique of poverty has to be cracked. A television series 'Lifestyles of the Broken and Hungry' would not top the popularity charts, but my point is that if media paid attention to the bottom rungs with one-tenth the insistence in our commercial advertising, remedial changes would occur. Further, public service messages resurrecting the concept of the common good, would be a beginning.
Actually remedies for greed do not have to be expensive, nor big, organized programs. Primary education depends on the skills of individual teachers, and if talented educators can reinstall the Golden Rule (Do as you would be done by) in their primary classrooms, some of the damage could be reversed. We need preventatives. Greed has to be reinstalled as a moral wrong, and in religious circles, as a sin.
Up the educational ladder, remedies will be resisted. Here lives the fashion for nonjudgmentalism. An extension of moral relativism, this trend to universal acceptance is a couple of decades old and "Who am I to judge?" is now the standard of the gentle classes and educated elite, even spreading to exotic healing practices and 12-Step programs where it is thought that to suspend judgment of self and others is for the betterment of society. This is nonsense. Comfort only brings inaction, nonjudgmentalism is moral vacuum 65, and eventually we will have no conscience to stop what is happening.
High on the academic ladder, of course, is economics but our best economic theory has delivered us contradictions and reverses. Volumes produced by economists, all written with graphite dispassion, seem to promote opposites, and you wonder if a coup was carried out by those adept at complicated thought. Just drive through any big city, you will see newsstands sporting magazines with glossy coverage of billionaires, these newsstands adjacent to people living among girders and sewage drains, alleys, scaffoldings and grates.
Among the social sciences, psychology may provide a specific remedy. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) 66 is a standard used by all psychotherapists. It is a compendium of all mental illnesses and it is used as a diagnostic tool in training psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and social workers. This book has been expanding through succeeding editions as more and more mental conditions have been described (which has expanded the domain of clinicians so far it is now said that about half America's population could be diagnosed with some mental pathology or other 67). It is time that greed be listed in DSM IV. With well directed psychological research of course greed will turn out to be a personality trait with a distribution in the population, and personality tests will be able to screen for extremes.
So there is a moral cause here. But the average person hangs back from active protest.
The problem is, even if we are not personally greedy, we have connections to corporations that are. We are happy consumers. Challenging the company we work for - would that be hypocrisy?
Second, activism, we think, is radical action, and what about all that street rant "if you're not with us, you're against us!" - but we cannot rebel because our corporation is also our rent, and we enjoy the good living we make, and we're not giving that up.
Perhaps that explains why our most articulate writers are so quiet on this topic. They also look within. So, bluntly, we need a whole new strategy for change, in which a person who feels he is part of the problem may also be part of the solution.
Enter some new thinking. Max Bruinsma is a sharp critic of the damage wrought by contemporary advertising in the service of relentless acquisition. But times have changed, he says, and he argues the polarizing slogans of past social revolutions (you're either with us or against us) don't apply. We're in a historical shift. The modern activist is different. The rationale: culture today is driven by commercial advertising. In it, a particularly worrisome new trend is for advertisers to soften up our thinking with billboard-size paradoxes. Building-size ads fill our view and state that buying a very mainstream computer (Mac) is 'thinking different'. Across the street another billboard shouts that acquiring a glossy SUV is a singular act of rebellion. Bruinsma quotes more examples: "Sometimes you gotta break the rules," (Burger King), "Innovate, don't imitate" (Hugo Boss), "Be an original" (Chesterfield cigarettes). The central insistence of these is that conforming = rebelling. And we remember the Orwellian slogans, Peace = War, Slavery = Freedom which, in 1984, reduced a future society's minds to value-free mush.
Well, we can follow suit. We can generate our own examples of contradictions. So, perhaps, commercial success and social responsibility are not incompatible anymore. Everything is possible if you use self-contradiction; you are able to both work for a company, and rebel against it. Corporate rebellion = loyalty.
This leads to a technique a 'Sixties activist, Rudy Dutschke, once called "the long march through the institutions." It is a long term and less bloody strategy. Go in, behave - and take over. The new culture agent is stylishly dressed, well paid, and works in an plush ad agency, designing resplendent ads which promote the return to honesty and social justice, humaneness, equity and the common good 68 .
The next revolution will be inside corporations.
As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer we drop our pretenses to humanitarian democracy, instead salute material excess, accept Darwinian business ethics, and pin up as our national polestar the most powerful corporations.
Money and effort maintains a particular way of seeing and evaluating our society; we focus on the topmost members, cover current inequalities with a rotating blur of nearly a trillion dollars of advertising a year, and by not paying attention to the lowest, we deny them. But they are there. Inevitably, as our economic tree reaches up, its roots grow further down.
It is not enough to say hopefully we accumulate layers of experience from error and progress. Technology will not deliver us equity. Logic has not delivered us equity.
We want our morality back.
For readers thinking these themes overwrought, I'll describe a small game in which you can watch greed in the person sitting next to you. Three people sit around a kitchen bowl. You, the fourth person, with a timer, start off placing ten small items in the bowl - quarters, dollar bills, or nuts. Tell the three players the goal is for each of them to get as many items as they can. Tell them one other thing before they start: every ten seconds (you have your watch ready) you will look in the bowl, and double the number of items remaining there, by replenishing from an outside source ( a separate pile of quarters on the side).
In the original Nuts Game, I used hardware nuts, and the players were college students. You would think the players would figure out that if they all waited, and didn't take anything out of the bowl for a while, then the contents of the bowl would soon get very big, automatically doubling every ten seconds. Eventually they could each divide up a pot that had grown large. But in fact, sixty percent of these groups never make it to the first 10-second replenishment cycle. They each grabbed all they could as soon as they could, leaving nothing in the bowl to be doubled, and each player wound up with none or a few items. This can be an energetic game. I've seen the bowl knocked to the floor and I've seen broken fingernails in the greedy melee. In the original game, players are not allowed to talk. Even when they are allowed to talk, not all groups collaboratively work out a patient, conserve-as-you-go playing style, necessary for eventual big scores. They don't trust each other.
This makes a good classroom demonstration of what greed can do. Actually mathematicians have designed a variety of these games, microcosms of the free economic process 69. Behind them all is a problem always nagging at Adam Smith economics. In the short run, what is good for the individual is bad for the group. The game is a microcosm of a community sharing a slowly regenerating resource (clean water, timber, whales) and individual greed can actually destroy the common good. The game involves two opposing rationalities: what is rational for the individual vs. what is rational for the group. And the resolution has less to do with reason than building a shared morality.
Details of The Nuts Game. http://www.g-r-e-e-d.com/Nuts%20Game.htm
43. Benedict, R. Patterns of culture. 1934/1989 Boston: Houghton Mifflin. The concept of synergy
appeared inunpublished lectures Benedict gave in 1941 and all references are derivative,
such as M.M. Caffrey: Ruth Benedict,l989 University of Texas Press. p. 308-309.
44. Fisher, C.S., Hout, M., Jankowski, M.S., Lucas, S.R., Swidler, A., Voss, K. Inequality by
design. 1996, Princeton N.J.Princeton University Press.
45. Calabresi, G. and Bobbitt, P. Tragic choices. 1978. New York: Norton & Co.
46. Ibid, p. 134.
47. Ibid. p. 132.
48. Derber, C. Corporation nation. 2000. New York: St Martin's Griffin.
49. Lasn, K. and Grierson, B. American the blue.Utne Reader , September 2000. p.74.
50. Gabler, N. Life: the movie . 1998. New York :Vintage Books.
51. McChesney, R.W. Corporate media and the threat to democracy. The Open Media Pamphlet
Series. 1997. New York, Seven Stories Press.
52. Ibid.. p. 23.
53. "Torture is accelerating globally, report says." Los Angeles Times. October 18, 2000. Part A.
54. Leonard, G. Mastery. 1991. New York: Penguin Books.
55. Adler, A. The neurotic constitution. 1926/1998. North Stratford, N.H., Ayer Company
56. See footnote 18.
57. "Foodstamp program is failing in California." Los Angeles Times 28 April 2001. p. A 15. A
second report is "Manymiss out on food stamps" Los Angeles Times 23 June 2001. p. B 1.
The second article quotes the average food stamp allocation at $73 per person per month.
58. "States cut back coverage for poor." Los Angeles Times. 25 February 2002. p. A 1.
59. Food aid programs are administered by the Department of Agriculture. In 2000 total Federal
receipts were $1,956,252million of which $274,448 million went to all food programs, of which
the Food Stamp program is one, for which the outlay was $3,392 million. Statistical Abstracts
of the United States. U.S. Census Bureau, 2000.
60. U.S. Food Assistance (domestic) The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2000. Mahwah, N.J.
Primedia Reference, Inc. 2000.
61. The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2000. 2000. Mahwah, N.J. Primedia Reference, Inc.
62. Quoted in "Study finds widening gap between rich, poor" Los Angeles Times October 20,
2000. Part B p.3
63. Rawls, J. A theory of justice. 1999. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Revised
edition. (The first edition is better, in my opinion.)
64. "The poorest are again losing ground." Business Week 23 April 2001, p. 130.
65. "If I'm OK and you're OK, are there any bad guys?" Los Angeles Times, 27 January 2002 p. E
66. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th. Ed.) Washington D.C.: American
Psychiatric Association, 1994.
67. J.W. Kalat, Introduction to psychology. 6th Ed. Pacific Grove, CA: Wadsworth. 2002.
68. Bruinsma, M. "Culture agents: For closet rebels in the inside game, it's time to speak out."
Adbusters , Sept/Oct2001. (Adbusters is unpaged).
69. More recent experimental work focuses on the effects of personal reputation among players:
(1) C. Wedekind and M. Milinki, "Cooperation through image scoring in humans," Science,
2000, 288, 850-852, and (2) M.A. Nowak, K.M. Page, K. Sigmund, "Fairness versus reason
in the Ultimate Game," Science, 2000, 289, 1173-1175.
This essay was originally published at http://www.g-r-e-e-d.com/GREED.htm
Author contact: email@example.com