Sunday, September 25, 2011

Best Option For Democracy: An Open Society

OPINION: Politics & Society

Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.
Howard Zinn, American historian 


We must plan for freedom, and not only for security, if for no other reason than only freedom can make security more secure.
Karl Popper
British & Austrian philosopher, in The Open Society and its Enemies
Statue of Liberty:  This has been a powerful symbol to countless immigrants who viewed it on their way to Ellis Island in New York. Liberty and political freedom are the hallmarks of a well-working democracy. As Karl Popper points out: "We do not choose political freedom because it promises us this or that. We choose it because it makes possible the only dignified form of human coexistence, the only form in which we can be fully responsible for ourselves."
Photo Credit: Rebecca Kennison, August 27, 2001.

In a article that The Atlantic Monthly magazine published in February 1997, George Soros writes in "The Capitalist Threat":
The term "open society" was coined by Henri Bergson, in his book The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932), and given greater currency by the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper, in his book The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945). Popper showed that totalitarian ideologies like communism and Nazism have a common element: they claim to be in possession of the ultimate truth. Since the ultimate truth is beyond the reach of humankind, these ideologies have to resort to oppression in order to impose their vision on society. Popper juxtaposed with these totalitarian ideologies another view of society, which recognizes that nobody has a monopoly on the truth; different people have different views and different interests, and there is a need for institutions that allow them to live together in peace. These institutions protect the rights of citizens and ensure freedom of choice and freedom of speech. Popper called this form of social organization the "open society." Totalitarian ideologies were its enemies.
Some might be surprised that Soros, who amassed a huge fortune under capitalism's system, would write such an article. Not if you understand that capitalism works best under a open, read: transparent, liberal democracy where ideas are weighed and argued in the open. An Open Society is better than a closed society, notably if you value liberal democracy and its values of individual liberty, equality, fairness and individual dignity. In his landmark and thoughtful book, The Open Society and its Enemies (1945), Karl Popper wrote in the preface to the second edition about the dangers of authoritarianism and a single-vision dominating society and its institutions:
I see now more clearly than ever before that even our greatest troubles spring from something that is as admirable and sound as it is dangerous — from our impatience to better the lot of our fellows. For these troubles are the by-products of what is perhaps the greatest of all moral and spiritual revolutions of history, a movement which began three centuries ago.
It is the longing of uncounted unknown men to free themselves and their minds from the tutelage of authority and prejudice. It is their attempt to build up an open society which rejects the absolute authority to preserve, to develop, and to establish traditions, old or new, that measure up to their standards of freedom, of humaneness, and of rational criticism.
It is their unwillingness to sit back and leave the entire responsibility for ruling the world to human or superhuman authority, and their readiness to share the burden of responsibility for avoidable suffering, and to work for its avoidance. This revolution has created powers of appalling destructiveness; but they may yet be conquered.
Karl Popper [1902-1994]: The Austro-British philosopher was a vigorous defender of liberal democracy. "You can choose whatever name you like for the two types of government. I personally call the type of government which can be removed without violence 'democracy,', and the other 'tyranny.'
Photo Credit:  LSE Library: Taken in the 1980s.
Source: Wikipedia

Closed Societies Benefit the Few

Karl Popper was somewhat prescient. A closed society, whose attributes include constant surveillance, limit of civil liberties, and a pathological distrust of everyone's motives, stands in direct opposition to an Open Society. Their aims differ. By nature, governments like to know and somewhat control what its citizens are doing. At times, these measures are necessary, the question is to what degree they are needed to protect both its citizens and the ideals of democracy and freedom.  Liberal democracies exhibit the least control, autocratic tyrannies the most.

In a closed society, the state is generally a distrusting and fearful cadre, fearful to let its citizens think and distrustful to let people roam freely, whether physically or intellectually. They tend to find legal (but not moral or ethical) justification in the wars they undertake. The terror, however, is felt equally within the nation and in the hearts of its people. Aligned with like-minded amoral corporations and the sanction of religious authorities, the proponents of a closed society have found a way to enrich the coffers of the few at the expense of people's civil liberties. If money is to be made, anything can be justified in the name of National Security, a meaningless catch-all phrase that could have been coined by George Orwell.

Such measures will not only do nothing or little for national security, but will assuredly cripple individual civil liberties and weaken the nation life. The fact that these events are taking place is not too surprising, if you follow the arc of history. Not to put too fine a point to it, but the German Weimar Republic was a liberal democracy for 14 years (1919-1933) before Nazism took over the German nation. After Adolph Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, the regime became totalitarian, and it made laws contrary to its Constitution.

Such things can take place in nations that are suffering economically and are facing both economic and moral bankruptcy. Instead of looking inwardly for solutions, they use nationalism, religious ideology, propaganda and other similar tactics and strategies in an attempt to regain status and control. The strategy has short-term effects and is doomed to failure.

Closed Societies do not prosper, and eventually fall apart economically, socially and, of course, morally, because they fail to harness the full potential of all its citizens. Equally problematic, empires with imperialistic views do so at the expense of democracy at home, a point that Chalmers Johnson, public intellectual and professor emeritus at University of California at San Diego, makes in Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. (It is interesting to note that Prof Johnson worked for a time as an analyst for the CIA.)

The United States, the leading military superpower, is inexorably becoming such a society. At least that is the theory put forth by some political analysts. Its history as an Empire started at the end of the Second World War, in 1945. If it continues it profligate ways, including maintaining a huge military presence overseas, its days as a democracy is in peril. There is no schadenfreude expressed here at this real possibility, since the American democracy's fortunes influence us all. Yet, Prof Johnson sees things as bleak:
We are on the cusp of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire. Once a nation is started down that path, the dynamics that apply to all empires come into play – isolation, overstretch, the uniting of forces opposed to imperialism, and bankruptcy. Nemesis stalks our life as a free nation.
It's a dark picture, no doubt. Perhaps Prof Johnson is overstating and slightly exaggerating the threat the U.S. faces, but if he's doing so, it's an exaggeration for effect, an hyperbole in service of a higher truth. Democratic ideals are too important to allow them to slip away. The U.S. is a great nation with a long distinguished history of democracy and individual rights, notwithstanding its periods of darkness that have hovered over it when it has felt threatened—whether real or imagined. Not perfect by any means, but no nation is.

Open Societies Benefit the Many

We return to Karl Popper, whose desire centred on the ideas of liberal democracy.  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy writes about the influence of The Open Society: "His most impassioned and brilliant social works, are as a consequence a powerful defence of democratic liberalism as a social and political philosophy, and a devastating critique of the principal philosophical presuppositions underpinning all forms of totalitarianism."

In open societies, the government is responsive and tolerant, and political decisions are made in a transparent, flexible and accommodating way, serving the needs of the citizens rather than those of the political, commercial and social elites. The state keeps no secrets from itself in the public sense. The society acts in a non-authoritarian manner in which all citizens are trusted with the knowledge that the state holds. Political freedoms and human rights are the central  foundation of an open society. Not only in the legal sense of the law, but in its spirit and intent.

Of course that's an ideal. No one nation today meets all these criteria, but some are closer than others. There are nations that have been traditionally more open, including Canada, the U.S., and the Scandinavian nations of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. as well as Belgium and the Netherlands. There are others, of course, which do not get the world's media spotlight, but they are humming along just fine. Their societies, for the most part, are more inclusive and tolerant. Although it must be said that the saying, E pluribus unum ("Out of many, one), forms part of the Seal of the United States..

We return to George Soros, who established the Open Society Foundation in 1984. Its motto is Building Vibrant and Tolerant Democracies.  Equally important, imagination is more powerful than knowledge, hope more powerful than fear, and love more powerful than hate. And, as George Soros points out, "Open societies can prevail only when people can speak truth to power."

Such was the case with the Soviet dissidents, including the Refuseniks. In the dark days of the Soviet Union, particularly under the iron and cruel grip of Stalinism, few would have dared conceived the fall of the Soviet Union happening in their lifetime. Well, we know what happened in 1991, after the former Soviet Union could no longer function under the combined weight of its own internal contradictions, a rising military budget, immoral failings and international pressure. Other eastern bloc nations soon followed once the people's desire for democracy and freedom became a predominant force.

Totalitarian regimes, on the other hand, hate openness, chiefly because they do little good for their citizens, and totalitarians don't want to discuss and examine the evidence openly. Totalitarian regimes are ultimately interested in secrecy and control and in imposing their single-vision dogmas on the populous. Democracies work best when society is open and tolerant of other points of views and where diverse views can prevail.

As Howard Zinn so eloquently stated, we as citizens have a part to play in ensuring the health of liberal democracy. I remain hopeful, perhaps a hope against hope, of seeing changes that would lead to the strengthening of liberal democracy and its institutions in many places of the world, notably where they are now weak. That would be beneficial for all humanity.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Freedom Not To Brand Yourself

COMMENTARY
Business & Society

It's clear that today's celebrities are becoming Brands unto themselves. But now even middle managers can get into the act. So if you see your VP of finance in the gossip pages next to J. Lo, don't be surprised.
—Fortune
Let not a man guard his dignity, but let his dignity guard him.
Ralph Waldo Emerson [1803-82],
American poet and philosopher


A Brand of His Own: Animals get brands as a mark of ownership, as is the case in the branding of this merino ram.
Photo Credit: CGoodwin, 2008
Source: Wikipedia
For a number of years we have heard about the importance of marketing yourself and your skills as a means to secure employment or new clients. We have moved beyond the ideas of "selling" your skills to selling the complete you. Or, to put it more succinctly, you are a brand. Tom Peters, a management consultant and writer, gave currency to the idea of Personal Branding in an article in Fast Company called, The Brand Called You (Aug 31, 1997): In it he writes:
Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.
Today, not surprisingly, there are websites, companies and magazines with names like Me 2.0 and Personal Branding Magazine dedicated to "packaging" people. Equally important, a whole cottage industry has evolved on this new method of self-marketing and self-promotion.

The next step might be coming up with a personal slogan and trademark, similar to what consumer-products companies have. Or to accept a tattoo for the company that you work for, as horrid as that vivid example is to most people. Such is the age of consumer marketing, where humans are expected to compete for attention in the same manner as do consumer products. When this happens, humans become abstractions, divorced from the whole range of human emotions and finer feelings.

That neatly fits into the explanation of how employers might view the people they hire. And personal branding then becomes a natural extension of the relationship between employers and employees. Workers, in a sense are purchased for a fixed period of time, says Prof. Paul Samuelson, who was a respected professor at MIT and an American Nobel laureate in economics. In Economics (1976), Prof. Samuelson writes:
One can even say that wages are the rentals paid for the use of a man’s personal services for a day or a week or a year. This may seem a strange use of terms, but on second thought, one recognizes that every agreement to hire labor is for some limited period of time.
For some, like Tom Peters, the result is the need to package and sell yourself as a personal brand. Although persons are free to act so in a democracy—even to act foolishly or against their self-interest —I find this idea quite problematic, and humanly and ethically self-defeating. I suspect, however, that I might be in the minority, particular among the younger generation who have grown up, and are highly proficient, with social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, to name a few social-networking sites.

If humans act like they ought to consistently sell themselves, likely a marketer's and human resources manager's dream, then humans might eventually look at other humans as a consumer product that could be bought or sold. It might sound far-fetched, even absurd. And, yes, I am exaggerating to make a point. But that's my concern, that we are traveling along the road to further erosion of human dignity, and where the respect for self becomes an artifact of another age.

We must fight against the unthinking conformism to false values, as this exercise in self-exploitation represents. Capitalism is a wonderful system, generally benefiting the greatest number of people. But this art of extreme self-promotion is a distortion of its intent. It's one thing to sell your skills and talents to the highest bidder, if that's your desire. It's another to sell your self and your dignity.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Politics Is Too Important for Partisan TV

COMMENTARY: Politics

Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule—and both commonly succeed, and are right. 
H.L. Mencken, 1956
Take our politicians: they're a bunch of yo-yos. The presidency is now a cross between a popularity contest and a high school debate, with an encyclopedia of cliches the first prize. 
Saul Bellow

Politics is just like show business. You have a hell of an opening, coast for a while, and then have a hell of a close.
Ronald Reagan

Partisan TV: It's as predictable as it is bad art and poor entertainment.
Credit: Daryl Cage, msnbc.com
 
I rarely watch political shows or panels or political pundits on TV, notably on partisan channels that loudly broadcast their ideologies in no uncertain terms. To their credit, at least you know where they stand. But I am usually looking for intelligent debate, often lacking on partisan channels. When I do decide to watch, I am reminded of why I avoid them. Three reasons come to mind: 1) They are partisan to the point of irrationality; 2) their performances are too predictable, ideological, one-sided; and 3) they are too noisy. Screaming, finger-pointing, incoherent statements and figuratively foaming at the mouth hardly counts as an exchange of ideas that merits my attention.

It's makes for an unsightly picture. More so, such displays do little to advance our society, and give the distinct impression that we are moving backwards. We live in an age when people for the most part argue with passion, which is fine, but not with knowledge, reason or courtesy. Such displays of mindless passion are a needless distraction to the more pressing issues facing our society, many of which I have discussed in this blog. It might just be political theatre that would make Chekhov laugh. Or on second thought, not.

Such partisan political performances are notable on American TV, but also on Canadian and European channels. It's bad performance art, complete with imperious performers acting as pundits, preening their ideas with the certainty of the weak-minded. It's a mock seriousness without the knowledge or deep thinking that ought to be part of such shows. Within a few minutes of viewing a show, you are left without any surprises, knowing the outcome. It's the presentation of one idea that gets played out over and over again. Ad nauseam.

Bad theatre like bad art exists for reason; and all bad theatre soon finds an audience. It speaks to the "true believers" of the idea or ideology they hold dear, and who are faithful to its causes. Evidence to the contrary is unwelcome and looked at with suspicion or hostility, like an uninvited house guest. No doubt, these political performances, similar in style and tone to some showy evangelical preacher, have a dedicated audience.

Sure, it's an embarrassment to good taste, individual dignity, and high ideals and morals. But such is democracy today, and it's directed at a highly divided polarized electorate. Anyone can have the freedom to embarrass him or herself on TV.

If it were somewhat informative, it might be worth watching. But you already know what the pundits will say, sometimes speaking into the camera with mock seriousness like a bad script. So, I find little value in such shows, and would rather spend my time reading a good novel, even one I have read before. Partisan TV, as it shown today, is bad art. So, to spare such individuals any further embarrassment, I would suggest that we switch the channel. Politics is too important, and time too valuable, to waste watching partisan TV.

The Culture of War

OPINION: Politics & Society


In war, truth is the first casualty.
Aeschylus

It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.
Albert Einstein

Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose—and you allow him to make war at pleasure.
Abraham Lincoln

Oscar Wilde once said: "A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it." Yet, many soldiers in uniform do precisely that, go to war for nation's presumed honour, and return in a coffin draped in the national flag. What follows is as predictable as it is sad.

There's a military honour guard and a ceremony to mark the occasion. The families go home and wonder what happened. They might tell themselves their husband, father, brother, uncle died as a hero, serving their country. But feelings of emptiness, wonder and grief engulf them. Maybe also face feelings of doubt, questioning whether it was worth it. One cannot blame the soldier and the families that love them as much as the leaders that send them off to war.

Wars cause death to many, killing not only opposing soldiers, but civilians caught in the machinery of war, ordinary people living in the invaded country trying to live a normal life under unimaginable circumstances: going to work, going to the market, eating supper with their children. But war is not normal. War invades the normal and makes abnormal acceptable, even when the new normal of war and violence is bloody and leads to killing and death.

Nations give all kinds of reason to go to war, most of them sound good, believable and righteous, using heroic language and patriotism to justify the war and move the machine forward. It's wrapped up in maintaining "our way of live," or "liberating others." Yet, nations never really go to war for humanitarian reasons, despite the rhetoric and propaganda

For example, during the Second World War, the Allied Forces were not overly concerned about the victims perishing in Nazi death camps, even when informed about their inhumane purposes. (Personal disclosure: My father's entire family was killed in the Second World War.)  The reasons are always political, utilitarian, in the best interests of the warring nation, in other words, so-called realpolitik.

Three philosophical traditions of thought dominate the ethics of war and peace: Realism, Pacifism, and Just War Theory. The first two are well-understood, and do not need explanation here. The history behind Just War Theory is storied and more nuanced, says the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
 If we have to “name names”, the founders of just war theory are probably the triad of Aristotle, Cicero and Augustine. Many of the rules developed by the just war tradition have since been codified into contemporary international laws governing armed conflict, such as The United Nations Charter and The Hague and Geneva Conventions. The tradition has thus been doubly influential, dominating both moral and legal discourse surrounding war. It sets the tone, and the parameters, for the great debate.
Just war theory can be meaningfully divided into three parts, which in the literature are referred to, for the sake of convenience, in Latin. These parts are: 1) jus ad bellum, which concerns the justice of resorting to war in the first place; 2) jus in bello, which concerns the justice of conduct within war, after it has begun; and 3) jus post bellum, which concerns the justice of peace agreements and the termination phase of war.
One of the major requirements in Just War Theory is as follows: The reason for going to war needs to be just and cannot therefore be solely for recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong; innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life.

Needless to say, the latest foreign war, the Iraqi War, has been horrible mess that has killed too many people, including tens of thousands of children. It is highly debatable whether anyone of conscience can call it a Just War.


Civilian Life During War: An Iraqi woman reads a book with child on her lap as U.S. Army Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team search the courtyard of her house during a cordon and search in Ameriyah, Iraq.
Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo, Sgt. Tierney Nowland, 2007.
Here are the sobering figures from the latest War, the Iraqi War, from Iraqi Body Count, a UK-based non-governmental organization that has been tracking and analyzing Iraqi civilian deaths from violence since the military intervention of 2003. The figures were published on October 23, 2010:
  • More than 150,000 people have been recorded killed in the Iraq war to date.
  • 80% of those killed were civilians
  • The Iraq War Logs record deaths of all types, including combatant deaths that fall outside the scope of IBC’s civilian deaths database. This means that they can also contribute to a broader accounting of the total number of persons killed in the war, civilian and combatant alike. Such a figure can be derived by combining the IBC database, the new logs (2004-2009), and other official information available on combatant deaths in 2003, 2010 and the two months missing from the logs (May 2004 and March 2009).
  • Combining these sources, the detailed calculation below provides a figure of total Iraqi deaths, both civilian and combatant, of 150,726. Adding figures on Coalition military deaths, which now stand at 4,744, brings the number up to 155,470. That is, given our analysis of the new logs, as combined with other previously reported deaths, we are now able to say that more than 150,000 people have been recorded killed in the Iraq war since 2003, of which around 80% were civilian.
Or, to put it another way, in the last seven years,120,000 civilians have died as a result of the Iraqi War. The amount of deaths grows each day, and includes many children. If you look at war photos, and see children maimed or killed, you can never feel the same way about war and death.  Never again. That boy or girl is someone's child. Is the death of an Afghani or Iraqi  child inferior to the death of an American, British, Canadian, or German citizen?

Which brings us to reality. The problem of large numbers confronts us. It is important to note, however, that these figures cited above are of real individuals, who died as a direct result of war. War in Iraq has resulted, as IBC says to,
excess deaths that can be associated directly with the military intervention and occupation of the country. In doing this, and via different paths, both studies have arrived at one conclusion which is not up for serious debate: the number of deaths from violence has skyrocketed since the war was launched.
War might be the most evil invention of humankind. War is a crime against humanity, since its powers to harm are phenomenally great. Its effects are immediate, long-term and universal. It touches the physical, social, emotional and psychological person in a way that exceeds our understanding. It wreaks misery on individuals and families. Its total costs are incalculable.

A leader, particularly of a powerful nation, ought to think gravely about such things before signing the executive order for war.  One would hope that he would also ask himself, with a clear and honest conscience: What will this war, for the most part, accomplish? If it is to bring unwanted death and misery to millions of people, he should consider other more humane options.

Why Wall Street Needs to Change

 COMMENTARY: Money & Society

A collapse in U.S. stock prices certainly would cause a lot of white knuckles on Wall Street. But what effect would it have on the broader U.S. economy? If Wall Street crashes, does Main Street follow? Not necessarily.
Ben Bernanke, Current Chairman of the Federal Reserve in the United States

I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms: greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind.
Gordon Gecko, Wall Street, a 1987 film by Oliver Stone

The 400 of us pay a lower part of our income in taxes than our receptionists do, or our cleaning ladies, for that matter. If you're in the luckiest 1 per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent.
Warren Buffet, speaking at a $4,600-a-seat political fundraiser in New York,
as quoted in "Buffett blasts system that lets him pay less tax than secretary",
Times Online, June 28, 2007.




The Less Fortunate: Children sleeping in Mulberry Street, 1890. As bad as things were, things would get worse a few years later with the Panic of 1893, an economic depression that hit the United States, chiefly a result of speculation in railroads and bank failures.  In its comment on its effects, Vassar College said:  "In its impact on industry and employment, the depression of the 1890s was on a par with the Great Depression of the 1930s."
Photo Credit: Jacob Riis [1849-1914]
Source: Wikipedia

I have always wondered what such people on Wall Street really do. The images of the trading floor seems pure bedlam, screaming, gesticulating and scurrying about like mice with pieces of paper in their hands. Today, it might be in digital form, but you get the idea. In short, what value do they contribute to society?

It seems to me that their job is a form of gambling and betting on certain outcomes, albeit financial ones. They might use fancier more sophisticated computer-generated algorithms than the casino gambler, but isn't betting still betting? I am not sure how gambling and betting does good for the average Jill or Joe.

Etay Zwick made this point in an article, "Predatory Habits: How Wall Street Transformed Work in America," in ThePointMagazine.com:
Twenty-five years before the recent financial crisis, Nobel Laureate James Tobin demonstrated that a very limited percent of the capital flow originating on Wall Street goes toward financing “real investments”—that is, investments in improving a firm’s production process. When large American corporations invest in new technology, they rely primarily on internal funds, not outside credit. The torrents of capital we see on Wall Street are devoted to a different purpose—speculation, gambling for capital gains.
It would be better economically if this wasn't so, if Wall Street invested money in companies that produced something tangible. Such policies and actions would undoubtedly create jobs, bolster newer technologies, say, alternative energies, and generally increase confidence among the citizenry. It would place America once again among the forefront of nations dedicated to scientific, medical and technological advancement.

Yet, like gamblers who have an addiction or an affliction (or a genetic disorder as some might say), these men (and it's mostly men) find it exciting to bet with other people's money for personal gain. It's an adrenaline rush of the junkie.

And even if they bet wrongly, there are no real repercussions. There's always the government to bail them out with tax dollars, as the TARP program did for Wall Street in 2008. And these fine men from fine colleges get richly rewarded. Is there something wrong with this picture?

Perhaps someone from Wall Street would do me the courtesy of explaining in simple terms what exactly they do. At least athletes, actors, musicians and performers do something positive: entertain and make people forget their misery. Even the court jester had a purpose.
Homeless Shelter in Los Angeles: A cardboard box serves as a home for some people in Los Angeles, California, not far from the luxurious and more sturdy homes of the privileged and super-wealthy classes. This photo was taken a few years before the housing bubble and the financial crisis of 2008. Homelessness has increased since then by a large degree. (see Tent Cities.)
Photo Credit: Chris Sansenbach, 2005.
Source: Wikipedia


The Results Are Poor

But for this class of super-elites, the bottom line is a bottom line of personal enrichment and self-aggrandizement. Consider the following sobering news. The effects of the recent housing bubble and economic recession, which started in December 2007 in large if not all due to Wall Street's reckless ways,  is still being felt by millions of Americans and inestimable number of millions around the world. Eight million jobs lost, likely never to return. The result? 6.6 million Americans have lost their homes since 2007, and 12 million more expected nationally within the next five years.

It gets worse. No job. No home. What you get is homelessness. Recent estimates say that up to one-quarter of American children are essentially homeless or living in squalid poverty, reaching the levels of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Such, however, is little concern for such individuals, who blithely carry on as if nothing has changed.

That in rich industrialized America many millions of people fall through the cracks, and die as a result of such harsh monetary and fiscal policies, seems to not bother such individuals at all. They drink their champagne and eat their caviar with insouciance.

But it doesn't stop there. Many not only carry on, business as usual, but take money that rightfully does not belong to them. Stealing money in any form is a crime. Billionaires Warren Buffet and Charles Munger, both considered astute investors, have observed how the pen is mightier than the sword, but not in the sense of writing for a noble cause:
Over the years, Charlie [Munger] and I have observed many accounting-based frauds of staggering size. Few of the perpetrators have been punished; many have not even been censured. It has been far safer to steal large sums with pen than small sums with a gun.
The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America (2001)
Did Warren Buffet turn in these fraudsters? Or did he keep silent, afraid to offend his wealthy associates, his conscience cleared by writing about it in general non-concrete terms? As for Charlie Munger, he is no friend of the middle-class homeowner, as is evident in a Bloomberg Business article in 2010, entitled "Munger Says `Thank God' U.S. Opted for Bailouts Over Handouts:
There’s danger in just shoveling out money to people who say, ‘My life is a little harder than it used to be,’” Munger said at the event, which was moderated by CNBC’s Becky Quick. “At a certain place you’ve got to say to the people, ‘Suck it in and cope, buddy. Suck it in and cope.’” 
Of course, good old Charlie Munger is coping nicely. It's not surprising that such people respond in such an insensitive manner. Wealth has hardened their hearts and clouded their thinking, making them less than human. Perhaps one day such people will awaken from their self-induced narcotic slumber and come to the realization that there is much more to life than enlarging the bottom line of a bank by another billion dollars per quarter, or pouring money into another hedge fund, or issuing derivatives or more junk bonds through some computerized trading scheme.

The American Nightmare

Neither does  the average citizen on Main Street really care or understand the abstract importance of increasing a nation's GDP, its productivity numbers, bettering balance of payments, or reducing the deficit— if they are scrambling to make ends meet—living from paycheque to paycheque.  Millions are not living the American Dream. It's more like the American Nightmare.

To use the language of accounting, let's see what Wall Street has accomplished so far in America alone: Eight million job losses. Almost seven million foreclosures. One-quarter of children living in a non-permanent residence.

For Wall Street, whose companies lost thirty-five billion dollars in 2008, such results translated to more than eighteen billion dollars in bonuses, the New York Times reported. Some bankers gave themselves bonuses of millions of dollars. The average bonus was $112,000. Nice work, if you can get it.

No, not really.  Not if you have a working conscience. There's much more to life. There's much more to living. There's a world of humanity out there. We can only hope for a change to a better order of things. People deserve better. The Jews call it teshuvah. The Christians call it repentance.