Free Market Fundamentalist

“Free market fundamentalist.” Funny little phrase isn’t it? I heard it on the radio this morning.  It co-mingles the invisible hand of God and the invisible hand of the free market – as if the universe had been created by the great clock-maker who wound it up and walked way. Adam Smith was actually trying to apply this image of natural forces to his thoughts about commerce.

Almost twenty years ago, I tried participating in my local government. I had just bought a house in a new development and discovered the city planners had done nothing by way of preparing for the population boom the building permits they granted would eventually cause. This was bad, but not enough to draw me out beyond my day-to-day concerns of providing for my very young children. Then I discovered a developer was applying for another permit for new construction, which would further burden the insufficient infrastructure of the area. They must have known residents would resist their application because they complied with the public notice requirements in much the same way a mime would entertain on a darkened stage.

Nonetheless, someone noticed and started talking about it. Within a day, a clear majority of the affected residents had signed a petition to block the permit. Remember, this was pre-internet. People walked the neighborhoods, knocked on doors and talked about the issue. Residents packed the planning commission’s public hearing; chiefly raising objections about the developer’s plan to extract value from the land without contributing to the infrastructure changes they necessitated. The residents were accused of being greedy and classist.  Their objections were dismissed. The planning commission approved the permits as if no discussion had taken place, no petition submitted.

I found the whole process discouraging and confusing. For years I thought perhaps I was actually viewing the problem from a greedy and classist perspective. The developers’ spun the homeowners’ objections as a fear that their high-density ‘affordable’ housing plans would lower existing home values. Now I understand this to be a classic example of projection. Had they not feared a reduction in home values themselves, they would have developed a balanced distribution of luxury and affordable housing from the start. I had taken the children with me to the hearing. Afterwards, I felt relieved they were too young to understand how democracy failed to work in that instance.

I was at the time a strong believer in free-market capitalism. What I didn’t understand at the time what that free-market capitalism is a myth. Individuals do not make informed economic decisions based on self-interest. First, individuals are rarely aware of all of the details surrounding their economic decisions. Second, individuals are sometimes coerced into making economic decisions against their self-interest. Finally, because we are human, we sometimes make economic decisions to benefit a third-party rather than ourselves.

I had also never considered capitalism a threat to democracy. For some, this threat is so obvious it does not bear discussing. For others, the discussion itself is threatening.  Capitalism is sacred and patriotic and I might just be a communist if I suggest otherwise.

Capitalism is a huge threat to democracy. For-profit entities must try to remove all barriers to profit maximization. Democratic governments, by nature, to protect constituents, regulate commerce and those regulations create barriers to profit maximization. The tension is built in. Unfortunately, economic power trumps populist concerns; most especially because economic power can be used to discredit or mask populist concerns.

The inertia of economic power is probably the reason we still talk about “invisible market forces” causing market corrections and assuring free trade. If you had considerable economic power that depended on the majority of people believing you deserved that power wouldn’t you invest in educating the population about the system (the science of economics) that affirms your economic power as justly conferred to you?

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Harassing the Homeless: A hidden facet of corporate wealthfare

OccupyMN.org reports “County Commissioners and Sheriff Stanek have threatened to close down the occupation of the People’s Plaza in Minneapolis.” And reference an article in downtownjournal.com describing the situation.

Margaret Hastings of Minneapolis, a self-described advocate for the homeless, said she supported the resolution and called it reasonable. She said the county has been practicing a double standard by allowing the protesters to sleep on the plaza.

“Homeless persons are not allowed to sleep out on the plaza,” she said. “The very inequality they talk about, they themselves are practicing.”

http://www.downtownjournal.com/index.php?&story=17633&page=65&category=92

One can only hope this comment was taken out of context. People supporting OccupyMN are not preventing homeless people from sleeping out in the plaza, the county is.

Homelessness is one of the issues that needs to be addressed in our country. It is shameful that anyone be abandoned to the elements in the richest country in the world.

It is not only shameful, it is absurd. Solving the problem is far less expensive for society than harassing the homeless on a daily basis then jailing or hospitalizing them during their times of extreme need.

In his collection of essays What the Dog Saw, Malcom Gladwell includes a discussion of ” ’Million-Dollar Murray’ [which] explores the problem of homelessness — how to solve it, and whether solving it for the most extreme and costly cases makes sense as policy.”

http://www.gladwell.com/dog/index.html

The problem is that solving homelessness offends our sense of fairness. Why must I work so hard when they get everything for free? We worry that everyone will stop working and then there won’t be any money to provide for the needy or anything else.

The truth of the matter is that we already generate more wealth than we as individuals need. We generate more wealth than we as individuals ever see. It’s not that our taxes are artifically high to support welfare programs, our incomes are artificially low because we are paid at capitalist rates, which support wealthfare. Unless you are one of the rare few employee-owners practicing true profit sharing, you probably have no idea how much wealth you generate.

The deeper problem is that solving homelessness takes away the element of fear that keeps many of us working so hard for so little in return.

Apologize, Make Amends, Move On

It’s not surprising that Herman Cain has been accused of sexual harassment. It would be surprising if he never harassed a women. It would be so gay. Men and women perceive sex differently. Men and women approach sex differently. I think men typically make the first move because they would be waiting a long time otherwise. Unwanted advances are inevitable. Inevitable, but not harassment. It’s not harassment until he refuses to accept that she isn’t interested and tries to leverage a power advantage to get what he wants.
I can’t imagine there is a man on the planet who has never made an unwanted advance or been perceived to have made an unwanted advance. I can’t imagine there is a man on the planet who hasn’t tried to leverage his maleness to some advantage. These things aren’t harassment until the threat of sexual coercion or economic exclusion emerge.
I have heard that men who view themselves as successful also tend to over-estimate their sexual attractiveness. Successful men make more unwanted advances because they can’t imagine their advances would be unwanted. Perhaps they are more often accused of harassment because the power differential makes the threat of coercion or exclusion stronger than ever they intended.
None of this matters. Human beings make mistakes. What matters is how we respond to them. A man who appears to request sex and accepts a woman’s refusal — even if he didn’t intend to request sex — this man does not get charged with harassment; this man does not settle out of court because it’s cheaper; this man doesn’t need to discredit that woman because nothing happened. People of integrity apologize when they offend and they seek outside themselves to ensure they continue to act with integrity.
Herman Cain probably did cross a line at some time in his past with one or more women. He is a heterosexual male. What matters is how he and other men are responding to this ‘news’. Personally, I don’t think any of the Republican candidates are credible and I don’t think Cain is a frontrunner. Allegations of sexual harassment do make great smoke screens though. The disturbing response from some extreme voices — that women accuse men of sexual harassment because they can’t succeed in the normal way — aren’t even germane.
We know Cain is not a man of integrity because he can’t handle a simple allegation of misconduct. Great, but what do we know about any of the other candidates? Will they continue to funnel money to the wealthy? Will they continue to use the military and paramilitary forces to protect the financial interests of large corporations? Will they continue the war on poverty-stricken families? Will they continue to belittle GLBT people in order to intimidate heterosexual men? Do any of them actually know how to govern?