Archives for category: Money as goal

“We are the last (semi) stable democracy on the planet without a universal health care system. Elsewhere in the world, health care is a utility taken for granted, like safe tap water or electricity. They pay for it, just like we pay for garbage service or highways, and it costs far less than our broken system. That is not an opinion. That is a reality easily revealed with a bit of travel. Like embattled cult members, we deny ourselves better policy outcomes to protect our deluded beliefs about the nature of markets and preserve our odd pathologies around race. That’s a choice we make…”

Chris Ladd,
Why Republicans Cannot Replace the ACA, Or Accomplish Anything Else,
forbes.com, Jul 20, 2017

ACA means “Affordable Care Act”.

‘Affordable’ for whom?

For those left out, of course…
And who was going to pay the difference?
Those already in, obviously…

See what I mean?

Health care can be seen in many ways.
As yet another opportunity for profit to be made – one of the best actually, since health is such a valuable commodity.
As a ‘social benefit’ extended by the society at large to (all?) its constituents. America already takes care of its elders, children and veterans, doesn’t it?
A combination of the first two. A free market where many independent health care providers cater for the needs of their customers – free to choose among the various providers – while the bills are picked up by a third party, financed through public contributions.

The only problem with the third option being our current obsession with money.
For as long as we’ll let ourselves be governed by the current mantra, “greed is good”, we’ll continue to perceive health care as nothing but yet another opportunity for some to get rich at the expense of everybody else.

How about an Efficient (Health) Care Act?
Opening the market – by allowing the patients to freely choose their doctors and by preventing  monopolies – would drive down the costs.
Cutting the middle-men – the insurance companies would no longer be needed since the public contributions would be collected by a public authority – would also help.

Would such a scheme work?
As I mentioned earlier, not before we give up ‘greed‘.
In order to trust yet another public authority with even more money we’d need at least some hope about that authority being populated by really honest people.
We’d also need many more ‘health care providers’ who actually love to help their patients – and make a decent living out of it – instead of so many people becoming involved with this ‘industry’ simply because it is among the very ‘rewarding’ ones.
And when I say ‘health care providers’, I mean all of them. Not only the doctors and the nurses – most of them do love their jobs and perform them almost heroically. (Some of/too many of) the Big and Small Pharma, (some of) the hospital ‘owners’, etc., etc….

Should we extend this scheme to other areas? Education, for instance? You bet!

Should we apply the same ‘weltanschauung’ to the rest of the economy?
Minus the ‘single payer principle’, of course?
Well, last time I read his work, Adam Smith was talking about “the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” and about “Moral Sentiments“, not about greedy individuals becoming filthy rich at the expense of their fellow human beings.

“In almost every other race of animals each individual, when it is grown up to maturity, is entirely independent, and in its natural state has occasion for the assistance of no other living creature. But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chuses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens. Even a beggar does not depend upon it entirely. The charity of well-disposed people, indeed, supplies him with the whole fund of his subsistence. But though this principle ultimately provides him with all the necessaries of life which he has occasion for, it neither does nor can provide him with them as he has occasion for them. The greater part of his occasional wants are supplied in the same manner as those of other people, by treaty, by barter, and by purchase. With the money which one man gives him he purchases food. The old cloaths which another bestows upon him he exchanges for other old cloaths which suit him better, or for lodging, or for food, or for money, with which he can buy either food, cloaths, or lodging, as he has occasion.”

 

“America’s abundance was not created by public sacrifices to “the common good,” but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own personal interests and the making of their own private fortunes. They did not starve the people to pay for America’s industrialization. They gave the people better jobs, higher wages, and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance—and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way.”

Ayn Rand

OK, she borrowed this idea from Adam Smith, without mentioning him… let bygones be bygones…

A more interesting endeavor would be to learn something from all this.

‘Abundance was not created by public sacrifices’.
Makes a lot of sense. In a free market everybody gets what they are offered, ideally in close accord to what each of them had brought to the market.

‘Abundance was created by the productive genius of free people who pursued their own personal interest and the making of their own private fortunes’.
Now, whose ‘productive genius’ are we speaking about here?

About Ford’s, for instance, or about that of his workers?

At the time, workers could count on about $2.25 per day, for which they worked nine-hour shifts. It was pretty good money in those days, but the toll was too much for many to bear. Ford’s turnover rate was very high. In 1913, Ford hired more than 52,000 men to keep a workforce of only 14,000. New workers required a costly break-in period, making matters worse for the company. Also, some men simply walked away from the line to quit and look for a job elsewhere. Then the line stopped and production of cars halted. The increased cost and delayed production kept Ford from selling his cars at the low price he wanted. Drastic measures were necessary if he was to keep up this production.

Tim Worstall, Forbes Magazine

Anyway you look at it, both Ford and his workers were acting as ‘rational economic agents’. Ford was paying them the going rates in the industry and they were putting in as little effort as they could afford to.

That went on until Ford came up with a ‘new idea’. “It can indeed be cheaper to pay workers more but to reduce the turnover of them and those associated training costs.” “The point is not so as to be paying a “decent wage” or anything of that sort: it is to be paying a higher wage than other employers. That gets your workforce thinking they’ve got a good deal (for the clear reason that they have got a good deal) and if the workers think they’ve got a good deal then they’re more likely to turn up on time, sober, and work diligently.”

Again, a very reasonable attitude displayed by both parties.
An attitude made possible by the fact that both the car and workforce markets were free.
Ford could hire anybody/sell his cars to whomever had enough money to buy them while his workers were free to leave their previous workplaces and accept Ford’s offer. Or leave him if they found a better one.

And let’s not forget the fact that Ford was not alone, at that time. At the turn of the XX-th century there were hundreds of automobile producers in the US alone and this was one of the reasons for which the workers could afford to be so ‘picky’ – specially those who had some experience.

In this situation – where the market was really free, each party taking good care of their own interest yielded excellent results.
Ford had became one of the leading car manufacturing corporations.
The diligent workers continuously improved their living standards.
The society, as a whole, prospered. And learned, or should have had, the long term benefits of commitment and mutual respect.

What happened after the market was no longer free?

Meaning that instead of hundreds of car manufacturers competing for the best available workers we had for a considerable number of years only three corporations more interested in short term profiteering rather than improving their products?
And instead of diligent workers striving to improve their skills we had union members more interested in their week-end barbecues?

“The U.S. government bailout of the auto industry lasted from January 2009 to December 2013. The Big Three automakers approached Congress in November 2008. They warned that, without the bailout, GM and Chrysler faced bankruptcy and the loss of one million jobs. Ford didn’t need the funds, since it had already cut costs. But it asked to be included so it wouldn’t suffer by competing with subsidized companies.

The Treasury Department invested $80.7 billion from the $700 billion authorized by EESA. It recouped all but $10.2 billion…”

Kimberly Amadeo, thebalance.com

Some of you might tell me that the Japanese car manufacturers operate along more or less the same guide-lines. ‘Cradle to grave’ employment for the workers, a rather opaque management never held accountable until too late…
A very correct observation.
Only there is a huge difference between the Japanese work-ethos and ‘the American Dream’. The Japanese have a long history of being told to ‘fit in’ while most Americans have gradually convinced themselves that ‘getting rich’ is the only possible solution for all their problems…

Considering that both Japan and America seem to have reached two different cul-de-sacs it wouldn’t be farfetched to suggest that both are doing something wrong.

For almost 30 years now Japan has been running in circles. She hasn’t completely lost her edge but hasn’t performed as it used to.
The most worrying indicator – for me, at least, being the fact that they have given up ‘making’ children. As if the present generation doesn’t have much hope for/expectations from the future.
For almost 30 years now the American people has allowed a huge trench to grow larger and larger in their mist. The haves on one side, the have-nots on the other and the rift so wide that they are no longer able hear each-other. A present day Henry Ford would have no idea about how much to pay his workers in order to obtain similar results to those achieved at the start of the XX-th century…

Is there a ‘common cause’ that might explain what’s going on on both sides of the Pacific?
How about both cultural and economic spaces experiencing a somewhat similar decrease in individual liberty, the phenomenon having rather different causes in each of the two cases?

First of all, ‘dedication to duty’ can take you only that far. It is very useful for those wishing to ‘close a gap’ but acts similarly to an ankle weight for those who are in the position to attempt to ‘take the lead’. ‘Dedication to duty’ focuses the attention of the team to ‘obeying the rules’ while ‘taking the lead’ means leaving the ‘straight and narrow’ and venturing into the unknown.
These two situations imply completely different mind frames.

Secondly, those who venture outside the ‘safety of the perimeter’ need to follow a simple rule.

“Leave no man behind”.

” “When you have a conscript army and you can always replenish it just by adding more people, you don’t really have to care about whether they’re happy with what they’re doing,” Springer said.

Now the military had to care about its soldiers as individuals, and the idea that it would never leave them behind became something of a familial bond.

“It’s kind of a contract with the service,” Springer said. “You promise to serve us, we promise not to leave you.” “

 

You see, time and time again history has hinted to us that freer societies fared better, ceteris paribus, compared to ‘tighter knit’ ones.
For example, subjected to the same communist knut, Poland came out differently than my native Romania.

And while most people agree about Poland being in a better shape than Romania, there is very little agreement about a possible explanation.
Just as most people agree about ‘liberty is good’ while each of those people derive different meanings from the very concept of freedom.

Since it is so hard to coordinate ourselves about the meaning of a ‘simple’ word, how about taking the liberty to ‘agree to disagree’ and turn our attention to another concept?

Mutual respect.

Just think about what liberty would mean without mutual respect.

Can you imagine the liberty of someone driving a M1 Abrams tank on a highway?
Can you imagine what would happen if the driver of the tank wouldn’t treat the others with utmost respect? What would happen if the outraged others would band together and wait for the ‘mad’ driver to burn through his last drop of fuel?

You see, people who have more respect for the rules than they have for each-other end up belonging to a society so tightly knit that it has immense troubles whenever it has to cope with unforeseen situations. Adapt to change.  Confront a catastrophe…
For example, the Soviet Union, Japan and the US have a considerable number of nuclear power plants and have experienced a number of failures. The tightly knit Soviet Union and Japan have displayed commendable individual acts of heroism in the aftermath of such incidents but it was the more individualistic US who has somehow ‘ducked’ any serious experience of this kind.

On the other hand, I see potential trouble when I hear people stating that “My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins”.
On the face of it, this sounds perfectly reasonable.
Only the whole thing absolutely depends on both individuals involved in it having comparable reach. Do you really think that a guy with twice the ‘wing-span’ of his opponent would continue to stick to this rule if the by-standers would not band together to stuff it down his throat?

My point being that no ‘market’ is really free if its freedom relies primarily on a set of rules instead of depending on a healthy dose of sincerely upheld mutual respect among the participants to that market.
In this instance ‘free’ and ‘freedom’ are perfectly interchangeable with functional/sustainable.

The communist centrally planned economies had failed abysmally  simply because the powerfuls of the day had nothing but contempt for those under their rule.
Japan’s strict set of rules about what constitutes proper behavior in each situation seems to act as a brake whenever decisive action is needed.
America’s new mantra, ‘greed is good’, has time and time again produced speculative bubbles which have inevitably ended up badly. Under its spell, the market actually looses every shred of liberty. Exactly as a hypnotized group of people think of themselves as being free while sheepishly obeying the orders of their herder.
I gather you all know what ‘herd behavior’ means…

Compare Ayn Rand’s words to Adam’s Smith original idea.

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”

See what I mean?

Smith sees all ‘market goers’ as equals who freely address each other while Rand applauds “the productive genius of free men” who, in pursuit of “their own private fortunes” had the magnanimity to bestow upon “the people better jobs, higher wages, and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance”.

I, for one, fail to detect any shred of actual respect towards “the people” in the behavior so laudatory described by Rand.
And I’ll let you be the judge whether her description fits the current ‘state of the nation’.
Anywhere on the planet, not only in the US.

“and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way.”

jobless men keep going

 

Each of us tries to deliver themselves from the misery of this world.

We attempt that at the intersection of three realities.

The ‘hard’, the ‘virtual’ and the ‘socially constructed’.

The ‘hard’ one is what Marx called ‘the objective reality’. Whatever exists outside our individual minds. Whatever doesn’t need any confirmation from any of us.
For instance, a rock can very well lay on the bottom of the sea without any conscious agent being aware of its existence. No one might ever become aware of its existence but that actually doesn’t matter. Same thing goes for a man made piece of furniture. The original craftsman might die, the owner also,  and the ‘thing’ might be forgotten in a warehouse – or attic – without its existence, ‘in the hard reality’, being jeopardized in any way.

The ‘virtual’ one is whatever each of us makes of what happens around them. It consists of three, separate yet interdependent, ‘ingredients’. The ‘perceived’ realities, the ‘intended’ realities and the ‘engines’ that make all of them possible – our conscious selves.
I’m speaking of ‘realities’ because each of us is different from all others – hence ‘sees’ slightly differently from all others, cannot inhabit the same place in space – hence ‘sees’ the world from a slightly different perspective, doesn’t have the same goals – hence entertains different intentions.

The ‘socially constructed one’ comprises the aggregate consequences of our efforts. Intended and unintended. Known to us and unknown by us.  Belonging both to the physical and metaphysical realms. As in both the Egyptian pyramids and language being parts of the socially constructed reality.

Please note that the first and third ones are ‘objective’ in Marx’s terms while the second in purely subjective.
It is also worth noting that the ‘hard’ reality is not immune to our efforts and that the ‘socially constructed one’ becomes ‘harder’ with the passage of time. The pyramids dotting the banks of the Nile constitute a very good example of our ability to change the ‘hard’ reality while the Catholic Church – one institution among many – is a good example of a metaphysical construct resilient enough to survive for two millennia.

Another very interesting ‘social construction’ is the concept of liberty.

I find it very interesting because it is simultaneously ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’, ‘natural’ as well as ‘man-made’.
It is objective in the sense that it continues to exist no matter how many individuals subject themselves to abject spiritual slavery.
It is subjective in the sense that each of us understands freedom in their own way.
It is ‘man made’ in the sense that we have coined the concept and minted the words used to describe it.
Yet it is ‘natural’ since we all are made of flesh and blood and need to breath in order to stay alive. And yes, it is us who have invented the dog-collar and the leash we use to restrain the liberty of our dogs. Exactly because it is natural for them to try to be as free as possible.

Since this is but a blog post I’ll fast forward to what I had in mind for today.

The free market.

Which is, evidently, a socially constructed institution.
Supposedly, a place which miraculously transforms “private vices” into “publick benefits“.

Well, I’m afraid that those who have convinced themselves that ‘greed is good’ have understood nothing of Bernard Mandeville’s stark warning.

A market may be fueled by ‘greed’, or even by (evil)’vices’, but it is the freedom of those who partake in that market which keeps everything in check.

The communist centrally planned economies were also fueled by individual lust for power. They failed simply because no small group of people is smart enough to master such complicated matters nor humble enough to see/accept its limitations.

The very same lack of freedom has produced the financial crises of 2008.

‘Greed is good’ is nothing but a rationalization of the current obsession with monetary rewards over the very shortest time frame coupled with a blatant disregard for the longer term consequences of our actions.

And as any drug addict can confirm – whenever they are not ‘feeling high’, entertaining any obsession means loosing one’s freedom.

In reality, actually free markets are fueled by trust, not by greed.
And (self)governed by the fact that each participant is free to define/pursue its own interest and react to anything that is happening inside the market’.
Unfortunately, current markets are no longer free. Not that much because of governmental intervention but mainly because too many of the participants are blindly chasing the same narrowly defined ‘interest’.

“But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”

Smith’s words could not have been any clearer. Each of the participants to the free market wants something different from the market and each of the participants trusts the others to provide those different somethings – as long as the buyers can satisfy the sellers, of course. Nobody gets robbed while everybody gets whatever specific things they had come for.
In modern terms this would have been described as an ‘everybody wins’ situation.

Compare this with the contemporary mantra.
‘Profit maximization’.
Everybody chasing the proverbial ‘fast buck’
‘Enjoy the moment’ & ‘forget about tomorrow’.

And we continue to kid ourselves about the ‘freedom’ of our markets…

Even funnier is how we have twisted Mandeville’s warning to fit our own narrative.

“Millions endeavouring to supply
Each other’s Lust and Vanity …
Thus every Part was full of Vice,
Yet the whole Mass a Paradise …
The bees, however, are not satisfied to have their viciousness mixed with their prosperity. All the cheats and hypocrites declaim about the state of their country’s morals and pray the gods for honesty. This raises the indignation of Jove, who unexpectedly grants the hive its wish.
BUT, Oh ye Gods! What Consternation,
How vast and sudden was th’ Alteration!
As Pride and Luxury decrease,
So by degrees they leave the Seas.
All Arts and Crafts neglected lie;
Content, the Bane of Industry,
Makes ’em admire their homely Store,
And neither seek nor covet more.

In this way, through the loss of their vices, the hive at the same time lost all its greatness.

Now comes the moral:
THEN leave Complaints: Fools only strive
To make a Great an Honest Hive.
T’ enjoy the World’s Conveniencies,
Be fam’d in War, yet live in Ease,
Without great Vices, is a vain
Eutopia seated in the Brain.

Fraud, Luxury and Pride must live,
While we the Benefits receive. …
So Vice is beneficial found,
When it’s by Justice lopt and bound;
Nay, where the People would be great,
As necessary to the State,
As Hunger is to make ’em eat.

Apparently, Mandeville’s verses do not make much sense.
Why would a hive which had successfully purged itself off all vices find itself in a far worse situation after the cleansing?

Let’s first try to understand what those vices were.

Millions endeavouring to supply
Each other’s Lust and Vanity …
Thus every Part was full of Vice

Let me remind you of the fact that Mandeville had lived, and written, during the same period when the Puritans were trying to impose their strict moral code on the rest of the British society. And for the Puritans any attempt, made by ‘millions’, to supply ‘each other’s lust and vanity’ (a.k.a. various personal needs and fancies) was ‘vicious’ in itself.

The point of the whole thing being that it was not the absence of vices which had brought down the hive but the obtuse single-mindedness with which the vices had been banned. A line of thought very much the same with Durkheim’s ‘normality of crime‘.

And not very much different from our current obsession with (short time) profit!

 

 

“It is a very difficult decision for all parents because we live in a society that values profit over public health.”

“It’s more like listening to what other mothers were saying…
There was a … huge amount of evidence that it was harmful. Even if there weren’t ways that we could scientifically prove it, it was just talking from one mother to another.”

“Doctors do not do their own research, they are heavily brain-washed when they end school  with this idea that it is all good and then they do not question it much themselves”.

“A beautiful child went to have a vaccine and came back and a week later he had a tremendous fever, got very, very sick and now is autistic”

vaccine sceptic island

Well, the scope of this post goes way beyond the dispute between the vaxxers and the skeptics.

As a matter of fact, at face value all the four quotes I started with are spot on.

Most autistic children living in the so called civilized world have been immunized before having been diagnosed, both the doctors and the anti-vaxxers have been ‘brain-washed’ by their peers into holding to their current beliefs while very few of them have conducted any independent scientific research into the matter and yes, we do seem to live in a society which values profit over public health.

What next?

trump-epa-er-170328_31x13_1600

“”The president’s been very clear, he’s not going to pursue climate or environmental policies that put the American economy at risk,” said a senior Trump administration official Monday evening. Asked whether climate change poses its own long-term threat to the economy, the official said he was not familiar with research drawing such a conclusion.” (President Trump signs executive order rescinding Obama’s clean energy plans. abcNEWS, March 28, 2017)

“Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas parted ways with his Republican colleagues on the issue. He said the privacy protections were “commonsense measures” that would have ensured internet users continue to have control over their personal information.

“We don’t want the government having access to our information without our consent, and the same goes for private business,” Yoder said”.

“The American Civil Liberties Union urged Trump to veto the resolution, appealing to his populist side.

“President Trump now has the opportunity to veto this resolution and show he is not just a president for CEOs but for all Americans,” said the ACLU’s Neema Singh Guliani.”

“”Lawmakers who voted in favor of this bill just sold out the American people to special interests,” said Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.” (House votes to block Obama-era online privacy rule, abcNEWS, March 28, 2017.)

“Supporters of the proposed constitutional changes say handing Erdogan sweeping new authority is the only way to achieve the stability that society craves and businesses need to thrive. But opponents say approving the referendum is an invitation to dictatorship, particularly since Erdogan, already the most dominant leader in eight decades, jailed or fired more than 100,000 perceived enemies after rogue army officers attempted a coup in July.

“Everybody on the street tracks the exchange rate on a daily basis and Erdogan wins support as long as Turkey can keep the lira stable,” said Wolfango Piccoli, the London-based co-president of Teneo Intelligence, a political risk advisory firm. “But the challenge here is the external backdrop. They can’t really predict what’s coming.” “ (Erdogan Races against the Dollar in Campaign for Unrivaled Power, Bloomberg.com, March 28, 2017.)

“So we now know that Khalid Masood, the 52-year-old Briton who carried out the Westminster attack in London, had a string of criminal convictions. His first was in 1983 for criminal damage and his last was in 2003 for a stabbing. He was also a convert to Islam. Neither fact should come as a surprise.

Attackers apparently inspired by Islamic extremist ideologies are, for all their righteous rage at others, rarely particularly puritanical in their personal lives. A man who earlier this month seized an automatic weapon from a police officer at Orly airport in Paris had traces of cocaine in his blood and a long criminal record, while the attacker who killed 86 in Nice last July had a history of heavy drinking, cannabis use and casual sex. Several key members of the network which killed 140 in Paris in November 2015 had been involved in drug and arms sales. Almost every high profile attack in Europe – and many in the UK – in recent years has involved someone convicted for petty or serious crime.

There has long been a link between criminality and Islamic radicalism. One of the men who killed the off-duty soldier Lee Rigby in 2013 in south-east London had served time as a young offender for his role in a crack ring. Richard Reid, who tried to detonate a bomb in his shoe on a transatlantic flight in 2001, was a juvenile delinquent.

The proportion of Islamic militants with criminal backgrounds has been rising over recent years. One reason is that Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), which established its new caliphate in 2014, offers adventure, camaraderie, violence, excitement, relative comfort, cash rewards and even sexual opportunity in a way which contrasts dramatically with the asceticism of previous militant groups like al-Qaeda.

A young man from Dortmund or Lyon or Sheffield could thus expect much that a gang back home offered but repackaged. Violence was no longer wrongdoing but resistance, and even redemption. The extremist’s selective teaching of religious texts encouraged former criminals to see themselves as washed of former sins by their commitment to jihad.

The one surprising fact about the London attacker is that most recruits were between 23 and 28 years old. Some were teenagers. There is no evidence that Masood, so much older, has been involved in criminal activity in recent years. Indeed, reports of his unstable, punchy, pub-going persona a decade or so ago are in stark contrast with neighbours’ description of his “devout” and “quiet” lifestyle recently.”  (Khalid Masood was a convert with a criminal past. So far, so familiar. The Guardian, March 25, 2017.)

“According to general data, the suicide wave began in 2015 in Russia, where local media reported about secret communities for teens that invited them to participate in a dangerous game. In each case, the players must complete 50 tasks, beginning with cutting a vein and using a blade to draw an image of a blue whale on their hand. Suicide is the last mandatory task and if not completed, the game creators threaten to “deal” with the player’s family.

One social media user shared the results after he courageously took part in a game.

“I became curious about how this works and why people commit suicide after 50 days. My friend and me created two fake accounts on VKontakte and were both reached by a person for each one of us. Different people were giving tasks every day. The first one was to ‘scribble’ a blue whale on our hand,” which the user said they did with the help of Photoshop, reported Tengrinews.kz.

“We had to choose either ‘to hang ourselves’ or ‘to jump’ on the 50th day. Death is the end of the game. I then replied that I was scared and received a link. The ‘404 not found’ message appeared after I followed the link. After 10 minutes he wrote ‘If you don’t end your life, I will kill your loved ones’ to me, wrote my address and apartment number and I realised how they do it,” he continued in his message.

He called upon others to spread the post in the hope of preventing possible tragedies. He is confident while many might have refused the final offer, the gamers know where the child lives once the link has been followed.” (Suicide games raising concerns in Kazahstan, The Astana Times, February 15. 2017.)

“Police today warned Devon parents to be on their guard against a sick social media challenge which encourages youngsters to cut themselves. At its most extreme, the so-called ‘Blue Whale’ challenge encourages teenage suicide.” (Devon police issue warning over new ‘suicide challenge’ being spread on social media. Devon live.com, March 13, 2017)

What we have here is piled up evidence that we, as a species, have been focusing too much, for already too long,  on short term goals. While setting aside, or simply ignoring, any possible consequences of our ‘binging’ habits.

We elect our leaders based on their promises that they will ‘fix’ everything. As if any of them ever did. Go back to the history book and show me a single authoritarian leader who didn’t disappoint his followers. And yet we still ‘invite’ them to lead us.

Furthermore, we allow them to convince us that our present actions cannot possibly harm us, or our children, in the future.
Madagascar, one of the poorest nations on Earth, is taking steps to ‘clean up their act’ (“eliminate defecation in the open air; a practice still rooted in the culture and in the Malagasy society“) while the President of the US believes that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” And acts according to his convictions.
Why?
Simple. People living in Madagascar have finally figured out, like many other people before them, that careful management of ‘human waste’ drastically reduces the incidence of diarrhea – which mainly affects the children.
What must happen for the American public to understand that we cannot burn, in two short centuries, the carbon accumulated in hundreds of millions of years without having to face any consequences?

During most of our history, most people have been mainly preoccupied with the welfare of their children. For a very reasonable motive. Having children at your bedside is the most efficient manner to ‘enjoy’ a decent death.

No more. Nowadays we buy life insurance to supplement our pensions and plan to hire ‘outside help’ to wipe our arses,  if and when the ‘time will come’.
And in order to get ‘enough’ money we, or at least some of us. are willing to transform even personal data into ‘merchandise’.

This very obsession with money is the reason for which we care more about the promised stability of the exchange rate than about the character, and past actions, of the person who makes the promise.

This is why we no longer keep in touch with our children. Not even with the under-aged ones who continue to live with us.
This is why some of them become ensnared in ‘challenges’ which ‘inspire’ them to commit suicide.
This is why some of them fall prey to fundamentalist preachers. Islamic, White Supremacist, you name it. Yet another ‘reason’ to commit suicide…

Now, after too many wretched souls have become ‘radicalized’ – some of them even without any outside intervention, and after so much innocent pain has been inflicted, time has come to ask ourselves ‘why is this “blue whale” lurking around in the room?’.
And ‘why haven’t we noticed it before?’.

blue whale

I keep hearing about capitalism having failed us.

I’m afraid this is not possible.

Capitalism cannot fail, simply because it is nothing but a human concept.

It is us who are failing.
It was us who had identified the concept, used it properly for a while and then replaced it, tacitly, with another.

‘Capitalism’ worked wonders, as long as we applied it ‘as advertised’, while ‘monetarism’ – the surrogate we allowed to creep in where capitalism used to stand proudly, has started to unveil its ugly face.

You see, capitalism used to be about ‘faith’. We trusted that ‘the other’ would honestly attempt to meet his end of the bargain. That trust convinced us to close, and take to fruition, business deals which were designed (a.k.a. negotiated) to meet our respective needs. We were doing that simply because we had understood that a good deal today – good for both of us, that was, would mean at least another good deal tomorrow.

For some reason – bad money drives out good, capitalism is being replaced, slowly but too fast, by ‘monetarism’.

Too many of us start ‘businesses’ with the sole goal of ripping their ‘business partners’, a.k.a. clients,  of as much money as they possibly can. Legally or otherwise.

Without understanding – or caring, even, that they are actually slaughtering the goose with the golden eggs. Capitalism itself.

Dis de dimineață, în hală la Obor, o ‘babă PSD-istă’ le povestea unor vânzătoare impresii de la manifestația împotriva lui Iohannis.
Vânzătoarele, cu vreo 25 de ani mai tinere dar mult mai puțin ‘hotarâte’, i-au promis totuși ‘sprijin moral’.
Rămași între noi, le cunosc de cel puțin 5 ani și glumim de fiecare dată când cumpar de acolo, am continuat discuția. Prima pe teme politice, în toți anii ăștia. Foarte repede a devenit clar că ele nu se uită niciodată la știri și că se informează doar din ‘gură în gură’. Cu toate astea știau câte case are Iohannis și li se părea extrem de ciudat ‘cum de a putut el să strângă 6 case din meditații?’. ‘Sigur a mai făcut și altceva’. Adică ‘ceva necurat!’

Pe de altă parte au fost foarte receptive la observația mea ‘Păi da, dar pe el nu l-au prins încă!’
‘Da, aveți dreptate’, a spus una dintre ele. ‘Hoțul neprins, negustor cinstit’, a recunoscut ‘precupeața’.

De unde și nedumerirea care face obiectul postării de astăzi.

Segmentul +60ani a votat masiv cu Năstase 4 case și împotriva lui Iohannis 6 case.
Care să fie explicația?

Să fi fost OK să ai 4 case dar prea mult să te lăcomești la 6?

Au învățat între timp să nu mai accepte nici măcar un pic de corupție?
Ce bine ar fi…

Aș explora totuși și alte variante.

În primul rând trebuie să ținem cont de faptul că această categorie de oameni depinde în mod hotărâtor de ‘bunăvoința’ statului.
Și de ‘amănuntul’ că dinspre dreapta vin tot felul de mesaje cel puțin amestecate. De la ‘statul nu are de unde să dea pensii mai mari’ până la ‘voi l-ați făcut pe Iliescu președinte, acum tăceți odată din gură’.

Numai că astea două sunt insuficiente. Mai este ceva.

„Bogatul nu crede săracului” dar nici invers.

Oamenii de rând știu foarte bine ce este acela un profesor de liceu. Aproape toți au avut copii și au plătit meditații. Dacă nu ei, atunci măcar prietenii și/sau cunoscuții lor.
Nu e chiar același lucru ca un instalator sau un zugrav, dar tot cam pe-acolo. Un meseriaș ceva mai spălat.
Idea că un astfel de om – nu foarte diferit de ei, până la urmă, poate să ‘strângă’ 6 case e un fel de afront personal.
‘Dacă el a putut înseamnă că eu am fost un prost toată viața. Trebuie că a făcut el ceva necurat, altfel n-ar fi reușit!’

Năstase, pe de altă parte, a fost văzut cu totul altfel.
Ceea ce Iliescu îi reproșa ca fiind ‘aroganță’ a fost perceput ca ‘prestanță’.
Impresie întărită de abilitatea lui Năstase de a vorbi foarte elegant și, în același timp, suficient de inteligibil.
Pe cînd maniera oarecum ‘didactică’ folosită de către ‘sas’ îi indispune pe câte unii. ‘Ce ne tot dă asta lecții?’
Trecând la lucrurile care ‘nu se văd’, destul de mulți dintre oamenii din acest segment de vârstă nu prea înțeleg ei foarte bine cu ce se ocupă, și mai ales ce venituri are, un profesor universitar. Sau un ministru. Fie el și prim.
Pentru că Năstase așa a intrat în conștiința populară. Ca ministru de externe – care a repurtat câteva succese destul de notabile, ca prim-ministru pe vremea căruia lucrurile au mers – din punctul lor de vedere, destul de bine și, în tot acest timp, ca profesor universitar și om de cultură.
Oamenilor nu li s-a mai părut chiar atât de exagerat ca cineva cu o asemenea ‘statură’ să aibe 4 case. Sau, în orice caz, nu chiar atăt de greu de acceptat din punct de vedere emoțional.

OK, și dacă am ajuns la concluzia asta… acuma ce?

Păi hai să începem prin a nu le mai ‘înjura’ atâta pe ‘babele PSD-iste’. Nu de alta ci pentru că asta este echivalent cu a-l ‘înjura’ pe Iohannis pentru cele 6 case. Nu știm cum le-a agonisit – deocamdată e încă ‘negustor cinstit’, așa că ar fi mai normal să îl lăsăm în pace până ce situația va fi lămurită de cei ‘în temă’.
Tot așa nu e cazul să-i ‘înjurăm’ pe cei care au o părere diferită față de a noastră. Putem să fim în dezacord cu ei dar dacă vrem să asculte argumentele noastre am face mai bine să îi tratam cu respect, nu cu ironie sau chiar cu dispreț.

Abia după ce vom fi învățat să ne respectăm cu adevărat unii pe ceilalți, din ce în ce mai mulți dintre noi vor avea curajul de a încerca să își depășească condiția.

Și va înceta să li se pară ciudat ca unul dintre ei să aibă 4 sau chiar 6 case.
Dar vor veghea ca acestea să fi fost agonisite cinstit.

donald-trump-grab-them-by-the-pussy-cartoon

Or is it the (unforeseen?) consequence of some very ‘intelligent design‘?

Until not so long ago it was possible to buy unlimited coverage against the risks that scared you.
After things became too complicated and fraud a too widespread occurrence even the Lloyd’s gave up and started to introduce caps on insurance policies.
In fact Lloyd’s of London was the only place – that I knew of – where risk was understood, at least in part, in a ‘functionalist’ manner.
Risk is something that can be seen in two ways.
As yet another opportunity for making profit or something that has to be mitigated for the profit of the entire community.
Let me deal with the latter ‘option’ first.
Somehow I don’t buy it that Bismarck was primarily motivated by the well-being of the workers.
But what the German industrial barons of the day needed in order to catch up with the British ones – the Albion was the industrial power house of that time, o tempora…- was more and more people willing to leave the relative safety of the country-side and come to the city to work in the newly built factories.
In order to appreciate the huge difference between these two situations we must remember that in those times families were a lot larger than they are now and that their members used to help each other in times of need. But this could happen only if the members of the same family remained in close vicinity and worked on very flexible schedules – agriculture or family owned shops. You cannot go help your ailing mother if you work in shifts and live two hundred miles away from her.
So, in order to ‘lure’ more and more people out of the fields, and in a very short time, Bismarck had to offer them a ‘safety net’.
OK, let’s accept the idea that, maybe, there are some risks that the society, as a whole, should concern itself with.
But how to fulfill this ‘social need’?
How to identify which risks should be dealt with in a collective manner and which should be left alone. Then how to manage the whole process?
‘State-wide’ or through privately owned/operated initiatives?
Does it really matter?
I don’t think there is a universally valid recipe here.
The Bismarck’s social insurance system worked in Germany.
Lloyd’s has functioned almost seamlessly for 3 centuries. In England.
Both systems, one centered mostly on profit and the other on the safety of those who took part in it, worked because they spread out both the risks and the profits.
Current systems, where only the risks are being mutualized while the benefits tend to become more and more centralized – by ‘design‘, by corruption or both – are no longer functioning properly.
Take ‘Obama Care’, for instance. Most people, including Donald Trump, agree that something has to be done about ‘public health’ but the whole thing isn’t yet working properly.
Instead of fighting among ourselves on whether the state/government should have anything to do with risk management how about considering for a moment where our current infatuation with ‘profit‘ has brought us?

Abraham Maslow, the initiator of ‘humanistic psychology’, has been described as being “concerned with questions such as, “Why don’t more people self-actualize if their basic needs are met?” and basically why don’t people try to reach their full potential.”

“To over simplify the matter somewhat it is as if Freud supplied to us the sick half of psychology and we must now fill it out with the healthy half. Perhaps this health psychology will give us more possibility for controlling and improving our lives and for making ourselves better people. Perhaps this will be more fruitful than asking “how to get unsick”. (A. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being,)

In a sense Maslow follows in the footsteps of J.J. Rousseau.

“Although, in this state [civil society], he deprives himself of some advantages which he got from nature, he gains in return others so great, his faculties are so stimulated and developed, his ideas so extended, his feelings so ennobled, and his whole soul so uplifted, that, did not the abuses of this new condition often degrade him below that which he left, he would be bound to bless continually the happy moment which took him from it for ever, and, instead of a stupid and unimaginative animal, made him an intelligent being and a man” (J.J. Rousseau, The Social Contract)

In more than one sense.

Both consider that society presents its members with almost endless opportunities for self em-betterment, both wonder how come so few make good use of those opportunities and both have been accused of things they have never done.

Rousseau has been falsely accused of being the father of the ‘Noble Sauvage’ – and the quote above proves his complete innocence, ‘stupid and unimaginative animals’ can be mistaken for ‘noble savages’ only by those ‘abused’ by their ‘new condition’ – while Maslow’s detractors – who have failed to scientifically validate all aspects of ‘the hierarchy of needs’ – are questioning the scientific nature of Maslow’s ideas instead of reconsidering their own positions. (The truth being that Maslow had stated upfront that “I yield to the temptation to present it (his notion of a ‘Psychology of Health’, which includes the concept of ‘self-actualization’) publicly even before it is checked and confirmed, and before it can be called reliable scientific knowledge“)

Unfortunately it is rather obvious that while Maslow has successfully detailed what it takes for an individual to ‘ripen’ into the situation of being able to ‘reconsider its own self’, he failed to reach as far as Rousseau was able to. While the latter deplored the fact that ‘the abuses of his new condition often degrade him below that which he left’ the first blindly entertained the notion that self-actualization is necessarily a positive process.

I’ll use only two examples to illustrate my theory, even if by doing so I’m presenting myself as a target for the ‘science-nazi’.
First take a glance at those who founded/were involved in running LTCM. All of them had very respectable careers behind them at that moment. Why did they feel the need to get involved in such a risky business? For those of you unfamiliar with the financial world LTCM was a hedge fund which had to be bailed out in 1998 after losing $4.6 billion, a huge amount of money for those times.
Then tell me what drove Bernard Madoff, an already very successful ‘operator’ in the financial market  to transform the wealth management branch of his company into a huge Ponzi scheme that eventually lost some $18 billion of actual money ($65  billion if the fabricated gains are added to the total)? Not to mention the fact that he involved his family into the daily operation of his company, leading to his brother being sentenced to 10 years in prison and one of his sons committing suicide… – the other one died of lymphoma a few years after Madoff had been incarcerated.

Could it be that this ‘self-actualization’ business depends on two things, the character of the individual involved and the kind of interaction that exists between him and the community of which he is a member? Meaning that if the ties are weak the character of the individual becomes the dominant factor?

And since nobody’s perfect…

“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” (Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear)

But also

All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible.” Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune

I’ll end up saying that it’s not the governments that have a ‘recurring problem’ but the peoples themselves. By definition governments come and go, it’s the peoples that stay behind and must suffer the consequences of ‘self-actualizations’ went wrong.

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