Term Limits

Government at all levels is perceived as being out of touch and inefficient. Elections are bought by incumbents with the power of money provided by special interest groups. Lawmakers we once respected are stripped naked before us, revealed as merely human after all, and not very pretty to look at in the light of day. The ship of state is in sorry tatters. Certainly something must change.

Turning out the incumbents, imposing term limits, that will show them, right? Let’s get some new blood in there, and shake the place up; blow out some of the cobwebs. So why am I not happy at the trend? 

I have three problems with the idea of term limits.

First, I don’t think it will really solve the problem. Already in California I read about state senators running for Assembly seats vacated by those running for the senate! If the purpose is to introduce new blood, I am afraid that instead we will still have the same old faces, just in different places.

Secondly, even if it does work, I don’t think that term limits will have the results expected by most of those in favor of the idea. I see rejoicing among the liberals because they see a lot of wealthy old conservatives getting forcibly moved on out. This should open up opportunities for the liberals to gain ground. Unfortunately many Democrats will also see their terms expire, and they will have to be replaced by new faces too. Here is the problem; a system that requires a constant supply of fresh candidates is going to favor the big money. It is very expensive these days to give a candidate enough exposure to be a serious contender in a major election, so candidates are going to be even more beholden to the special interests. We will have slick, well-rehearsed quickie candidates. We have elevated style so far over substance that we will be sitting ducks for the PR machine.

My third reason is that constantly changing the political officeholders enhances the power of both the bureaucracy and the lobbyists. Our elected representatives may not do too good a job keeping an eye on these people who already have huge amounts of power, but it will be even worse if they have to retire just when they are really getting to know the job. If lawmakers are coming and going the only people who know how things work are the people who are always there, most especially the lobbyists (whose ranks will now be swelled with termed-out former officeholders). Do we really want to increase the power of people over whom we have no control? People who are subject to no term limits, face no elections? 

If all this sounds too amorphous, consider that these bureaucrats run the IRS, the DMV and the Franchise Tax Board. The people we elect to office are a main line of defense against the power of these organizations, frail though that line may be. Term limits demand we lose the best along with the worst. 

I am not saying that everything is fine and that the people who are running things should not be challenged, but it is foolish to get rid of people simply because they have been in office a long time, irrespective of whether they are doing a good job. We are in danger not merely of throwing out the baby with the bath water, but of throwing out the baby and keeping the bath water.

Good And Evil

“We need more good people with guns to protect us from the bad people with guns.” — National Rifle Association.

“There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” — Shakespeare

“The line between good and evil passes through every human heart” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The concepts of good and bad or good and evil are entirely dependent on context. Nothing is good or bad of its nature; the same phenomenon may be good under some circumstances and bad under others; it all depends on what the desired end is. By definition something is good if it leads towards the desired end, bad if it leads away from it. It is possible to derive benefits even from events that seem to be purely evil. We are able to cure neurological diseases today as a result of the ghastly experiments carried out by Dr Mengele in the Nazi death camps. This does not excuse or condone those experiments, but it does point up the difficulties we encounter when we make sweeping moral judgments. 

Good and bad behavior follow the same rule. The same behavior can be considered good or bad according to the circumstances, and the same person can act with good intent or with evil intent at different times and under different circumstances. Mafia leaders who acted with the utmost brutality in their business dealings were often beloved pillars of their communities that local people could go to for help, confident that they would get it. Even describing intent as good or evil is problematic. Everyone at all times wants to do the right thing. Nobody deliberately sets out to what is in his own mind wrong. Whatever he decides to do, he does it because he believes it is right, otherwise he would not do it. This is why appeals to a person’s moral conscience will often fall of deaf ears. An appeal to someone to do what he knows is right depends for its effectiveness on his agreeing with you on what is in fact right. 

A person’s views on what is right and what is wrong depend on a great many factors. Religion, socio-political beliefs and observations, social class, the views of one’s peers, upbringing all have profound effects upon our ideas of right and wrong. Things were simpler in the days when people looked to religion for the answers to moral questions; today we are expected to work it out for ourselves. Little wonder that cult leaders who proclaim with great conviction a set of beliefs gather great followings. Their adherents are seeking certainty in an uncertain world, and are happy to pass on the burden of decision making to someone else. 

This is the great danger of absolutist thinking and teaching. Someone brought up in a religion that claims that it alone preaches the truth, and that all other religions and philosophies are false, learn two distinct things: first that there can be such a thing as a universal exclusive truth, and second that their particular religion has it. The danger is that they will discover the falsity of the second, while still believing the first. This makes them prime victims for cults and extremist political groups. They simply substitute one false belief for another. In many cases their adherence to the new beliefs, being, as they believe, a conscious choice (though that judgment is highly questionable) will be even stronger than to the old ones.

What all of this means is that there are no good people and bad people, there are just people who act in all kinds of ways under different circumstances. Some of these ways are classified by society as evil because they run counter to the aims of society. All of us have the capability of behaving in these ways; fortunately most of us are not put in circumstances that cause us to do so. People do not like to admit this to themselves, so they Tell themselves that it was caused by something inherent in that person, that they themselves do not have.

Even those of us who do recognize that we all have the potential for such acts often believe that we ourselves have sufficient self-control that we could never actually carry them out. Again, many are right, but even for them there is some set of circumstances under which they will lose control. It will be different for everyone, but we must always be alert to the danger. All of us have the capacity for that great disinhibitor, anger. Our lives these days give us many opportunities for anger, both chronic and acute. We are not good at properly directing our anger at its true cause, so we take it out on often innocent bystanders. When someone displays anger towards us we tend to get angry in our turn, and so the fire spreads. Anger often turns to rage, which enables us to ignore our inhibitions against antisocial behavior.

These are uncomfortable thoughts for many people. They prefer to think of school shooters and the like as “other” in some fundamental way. If we can just get rid of that element, they think, then we can be rid of the problem. Unfortunately it does not work that way. You cannot draw a line to divide the good from the evil; all of us have the potential for either.

Social Justice: Getting from Here to There

Having established the principle that if we are to have a fair and just society we must end the two traditions of being able to grow your money and inheritance, which together underpin the entire enterprise of the ownership class, we are faced with the implementation problem. We are proposing to do away with the ownership class, and it would be naïve to suppose that this class will go willingly. The old revolutionary approach to the problem, involving sharp blades separating heads from bodies, or firing squads or ropes and lampposts are simply not going to happen in present day America, and should not.

There is a better approach, which is to take a lesson from the British in India. They were faced with the problem of a similar class of owners, the Maharajas. They could have deposed and impoverished them, but instead they allowed them to retain their position and wealth, but deprived them of power. I believe a similar strategy is needed today.

The plan has four steps. First, limits must be placed on what personal money can be spent on. The new rule is that you can spend your money on whatever luxuries and services you choose. You can buy cars, yachts, houses, whatever you want to make your life more comfortable or interesting. You can give money to other people, but only as a gift. What you cannot do with your money is to make more money with it. In return for giving up the ability to grow your money, you are guaranteed that it will not shrink either. It will always be there for you to use whenever you choose. We have seen that this situation would benefit the vast majority of people, so if it is properly presented it should command support. The concept of limiting what money can be used for is well established. This is an extension of that principle.

This will eliminate at a stroke the entire financial services industry. Here is where a great deal of opposition will come, both from those who make a very handsome living in this industry, and from those who fear large scale change. The question to focus attention on and insist on a detailed response to is what value does this industry add to the economic system as a whole in return for all of the money they are sucking out of it? I do not believe an adequate answer can be offered.

For those who believe that eliminating such a large industry would cause great social disruption, and be unfair on those thrown out of work, I would point out that such considerations have never gotten in the way of corporate consolidation or workplace automation; somehow when it is mere workers that are affected it does not seem to matter as much.

The second step is to recognize that money is simply a scoring system, and establish a single mechanism for keeping score. We do not even have to call it a bank. Everyone would have a free account, and the balance would show the difference between what they had contributed to the pool of resources and what they had taken from it. This would function exactly like money. You could withdraw it in cash form. The difference from our present system is that money would no longer be a commodity to be traded, but simply a means of facilitating exchange of resources without an actual value of its own.

The third step is to buy out the ownership class at present value. We add up the value of all of their assets, and credit their accounts with the resulting amount of money. The community then takes possession of the assets. The exception would be owner-run businesses, where the owner would continue to own his business, but any purely financial partners would be bought out. It is misleading even to say that the community takes possession, because what is really happening is that ownership ceases to exist. Instead control of organizations is divided between those who make an ongoing contribution to the operation of the business or have an interest in its continued operation. The workers, the managers, the customers, the suppliers, the community at large will all have voices in management. All of the profits will be shared in some measure by all of these interests, some directly, others (like the surrounding merchants) indirectly. The natural format to build on is the worker owned cooperative.

The fourth step is to redefine property rights with regard to land and primary residential housing. It is necessary for the functioning of an orderly society that people be secure in their property, and this will not change. Ownership will still allow you the right to use your property with no greater restrictions than now. However certain rights are removed from the bundle. The most important is that you only own the use and care of the land, not the underlying value. If the value of the land increases because of the actions of society, it is society that should reap the benefit of the added value. The owner will be compensated only for value he has added to the property. You can only own land that you can actually use. If you have no use for land it can be assigned to someone else to use. You do not have the right to make a profit renting the land out to someone. Use of land might include the concept of a privacy zone; even if you do not actually work the land you would be entitled to maintain control of a certain area around your house. 

The same concept would apply to housing. As long as everyone in the community has an adequate dwelling, there is no problem with some having multiple houses, but only for their own use or that of their friends, or as vacation rentals (a legitimate business). They are not allowed to rent out primary residential accommodation for profit. These are not restrictions of natural rights, but redefinition of allowable economic activities. Nobody has a right to make money in any particular way; every occupation is subject to rules, and we are simply redefining the rules in the interests of social benefit.

The end result of this is that nobody’s primary residence is owned by someone else who has the power to turn them out for no particular reason, or raise their rent at will, or any of the other activities that make tenants hate landlords.

In this way we dispossess the ownership class of their income producing assets, while compensating them fairly for them. They still have the money to live their lives in comfort and security, but the social harm they can do with their money is eliminated.

Debate on Medical Ethics

From an online debate on waccobb.net

rhonda741 wrote:

Let’s look at a few FACTS:

The NUMBER ONE KILLER in America is NOT heart disease or high blood pressure, but Iatragenic Disease, commonly known as Medical errors. The number of people who die EVERY DAY from medical related incidence or error is the equivalent to 6 (SIX) jumbo jets crashing and killing everyone aboard. THAT Happens EVERY DAY! That is outrageous!

Where are you getting these numbers? You seem to be saying that there are some 800,000 iatrogenic (sic) deaths in the US every year. (I am assuming that by “America” you mean the US, right? It seems to be a habit in this country to conflate the two, to the disgust of the many other inhabitants of the continent.) This would indeed put it in the number one slot, but with a total of around 2,400,000 deaths a year, of which some 1,400,000 are attributed to heart disease and cancer, it seems unlikely that your number is correct. 

But beyond the accuracy of the numbers, if you are going to use this as an argument for staying away from doctors, you would have to show that a significant number of these deaths would not have occurred had the person not sought medical attention

rhonda741 wrote:

The NUMBER ONE suggestion a medical makes is to take tests, and more tests, and more tests, and then prescribe a drug that they

1. own stock in the producing pharmaceutical company of

2. receive kick-backs & benefits for perscribing x # of _______ within a designated time frame

3. KNOW that the drug will not “cure” anything, but instead create issues that will require more drugs to compensate for the bad side affects of this new drug, which MAY kill the person because their system will not handle the side affects mentioned in pica 4 print on the label inside the box

In any profession, or for that matter any grouping of people at all, you will find some who are dishonest, some who are criminal, some who are honest but deluded, and some who are both sincere and skillful, among many other categories. You will also find that the percentages of these categories are pretty constant in all walks of life, including the “alternative” health business. Your suggestion that all, or even a large proportion, of doctors act as you have described does not look like cynicism, but an extreme form of prejudice. Yes, I am sure that there are doctors who are as you describe, but I am equally sure that they form a tiny minority of the profession. (Nitpicking point: a pica is 12 points, so you described 48-point type, which would be readable at six feet or so!)

rhonda741 wrote:

The Number TWO suggestion by REAL medical doctors is to cut an organ out (for $72,000 +) that will provide a little relief but shorten the expected life span of the individual mutilated by the “expertise” of the surgeon who performs barbaric atrocities to the human body for a “fee” which pays a portion of his malpractice insurance.

Again, surgeons are fallible and sometimes dishonest, but the same applies here. In addition, some forms of surgery are unquestionably beneficial (I hope you would not go to an Upper Cervical pracitioner to treat an attack of appendicitis). And there are plenty of malpractice attorneys ready to pounce on any surgeon who even makes an honest mistake, let alone indulges in the kind of behavior you describe. (That malpractice insurance you mention creates a very tempting deep pocket!)

rhonda741 wrote:

IF YOU WANT to know the truth and really help people, then read the reports of these people who have tried alternative approaches to health and gotten over their debilitating illnesses. Their desire is to help others without expecting a financial gain or showing their excellent knowledge base. Shame on you for putting down members on this group who do not have an agenda or need to perform to your arrogant responses.

No agenda? You are pushing Upper Cervical care. Is this not a profit-making business too? Are you saying that this is the one business that contains no dishonest, greedy or deluded practitioners? I would be astonished.

rhonda741 wrote:

Of course, the Upper Cervical doctor, according to your qualifications is not a REAL DOCTOR because he does not TEST, REMOVE organs or prescribe drugs). That means he is NOT a MD or DO, doesn’t it? Montel goes on to say his MS disappeared after his atlas was corrected. How many modern REAL doctors have patients that say that? We have unlimited testimonies from people saying the same thing on our site.

What defines a “real” doctor is not how he or she sets about diagnosing and treating patients, it is the education and certification that he or she has undergone. “Real” doctors regularly report patients that recover for no discernible reason; no doubt you are familiar with the placebo effect, for instance. This is why medical science is very circumspect about ascribing causes to either illnesses or cures; it takes very careful study and statistical analysis to determine what is really true. Whatever your opinion of the scientific method and the value of anecdotal evidence, you would do well to read Carl Sagan’s book “A Demon-Haunted World (Science as a Candle in the Dark)” which describes many beliefs that were once widely held among even intelligent people that even you would now acknowledge to be mistaken.

So could we not perhaps conduct this discussion on a more intelligent level, and leave out the blanket condemnations of an entire profession, and the unsupported and highly questionable statistics? I am sure that Upper Cervical care has its place as a treatment modality, and in the hands of a skillful practitioner can be helpful in some cases where regular medicine has failed, but I am equally sure that it is not a panacea that will cure all ills, and that there are UC practitioners who are dishonest and greedy and venal in about the same proportion as in all other professions.

More About the “Undeserving” Poor

In the debate about what should be done about, for example, the problem of homelessness, one invariably soon hears reference to the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. The former, of course, are generally seen as worthy of our help, but the latter are another story. They are thought to be in their condition because of their own avoidable actions, which justifies our reluctance to help them.

It goes further. Not only are we unwilling to help them, we actively impede them when they try to fend for themselves. We lock up our waste, and restaurants render food inedible before throwing it away lest some poor person eat it without paying. We walk past them, looking the other way. We pretend that they do not exist.

What are we saying when we take this attitude? We are saying that these people behaved so badly that they deserve to be cast out of society, and denied even a roof over their heads. What exactly is this behavior that deserves such a punishment? For punishment it certainly is. I went to an English public school, which Americans would call a private school. Certain kinds of social infractions among the boys, such as for instance informing on another boy to a teacher, would be punished by one’s schoolmates by being sent to Coventry, which meant effective banishment from the group. The boy being punished would be completely ignored by his classmates, who would not even acknowledge his existence for the period of the punishment. This was a serious and much feared stricture. Similarly several religious groups practice shunning, where even family members are forbidden to have any dealings with the shunned member. Again it is a very serious form of punishment.

This is exactly the way we treat the poor and most especially the indigent, the homeless. Wherever possible we ignore them completely, and when we do acknowledge their existence it is usually in a disapproving or at best condescending way. We deny them access to the resources they need for their survival even though those resources are readily available. We prefer to destroy things rather than let someone to have them without paying. So they are certainly being actively punished.

What are they being punished for? One common response is that they made bad choices. They are certainly not alone in that. Everybody makes bad choices, and we do not put them out on the street on that account. Maybe they took drugs. Again, everybody takes drugs of one kind or another. We have not found any civilization that did not know about and use mind-altering substances. Whatever behavior you can point to that is common among homeless people can be found among the entire population, often in much worse forms. Yet we do not punish these people by throwing them out on the streets.

The incidence of criminality among the homeless is not unusually high, and often  involves what are termed “quality of life” crimes such as littering and disturbing the peace, or at the most petty theft or minor violence among themselves. We do not find gangs of homeless people attacking regular citizens or robbing convenience stores. Successful criminals might be expected to be able to afford a place to live. It is unlikely that it was a life of crime that resulted in homelessness. Most crime at that level is caused by, not the cause of homelessness.

The exception to this is released prisoners, who make up a significant segment of the homeless, including a particularly unfortunate group, sex offenders. Here we cannot say that their plight is directly caused by their crime, which they have already paid society’s price to expiate. It is caused by the fact that we continue ot punish offenders even when they have served their time, making it difficult for them to obtain employment and be accepted back into regular society. Sex offenders experience these difficulties in even more acute form. They are forbidden to live or even go within a certain distance of schools and playgrounds, which often makes entire towns off limits to them. They are forced to reveal their status to prospective landlords and neighbors, with fairly predictable results.

All of this is the result, not of the actual risks that they represent to society, but of our unreasonable response to the issue. This is not the place to examine in depth the question of whether the offenses that landed them on the lists should even be classified as crimes, but there is little question that there are a great many people on the Sex Offenders Registry that pose no danger to society at all.

Even if you can show that someone did make bad choices that landed them on the street, does that make them undeserving of help? Can you really blame someone for their choices? They make their life choices based on what they have been taught, both the messages that society has drummed into them since birth, and the lessons of their own experience and observations. They cannot be held responsible for their upbringing, they did not choose the circumstances of their lives. You can point to those who started from the same circumstances at made a sustainable life for themselves, but the only difference between them and the homeless is sheer dumb luck. Maybe they had a good role model, or a kind teacher or something that pushed them towards the right path, and the homeless person did not. The French have a saying that to understand all is to forgive all. If we truly understood all of the circumstances that made someone act the way they do, we would find ourselves unable to blame them for it.

But we are not considering bad choices in general, only bad choices that might lead to homelessness, and it is very hard to find such causes in reality. The kinds of circumstances that most often lead to homelessness are loss of employment (which, it is true, might itself have been occasioned by bad behavior of some kind), divorce, sickness, and simply the failure to see to one’s own interests. There are countless stories of people who gave up their own lives to nurse someone through their final illness, perhaps with the promise of an inheritance, only to find that all the money was spent on the medical care.

The truth is that if we are going to draw moral conclusions from peoples’ circumstances we might consider that poverty is the sign of someone who has not ordered his affairs with a view to his own gain; in other words someone who has acted unselfishly. A wealthy person, on the other hand, has clearly made sure that his interests were well served, which must be classified as selfish behavior. The fact that such behavior is encouraged in our culture does not make it any less selfish. At the same time the moral values we profess to believe in would favor unselfish behavior over selfish behavior, so we should, if we were true to our professed values, admire the destitute person and despise the wealthy one.

The other argument that is put forward is that they refuse to take advantage of help that is available, and choose to live the lives they do in spite of available better opportunities. If they were really doing this, it would truly be irrational behavior or perhaps a sign of mental illness, so this would surely qualify them for help since they are clearly incapable of helping themselves. Really, of course, they are not passing up a better opportunity in favor of a worse one. We offer the kinds of help we think they should want, or, worse, the kind we think would be good for them, and give no thought to their actual needs and the circumstances of their lives. The so-called help that is available that the homeless are accused of not wanting to use consists mainly of shelters. Shelters, however, at best solve only part of the problem, which is a place to sleep. They do nothing to solve the issue of where they spend the daytime hours. Almost all shelters require their clients to leave quite early in the morning, with all of their belongings, and they can only return at a certain hour in the evening. In addition they are usually located at some distance from populated areas, owing to the reluctance of the population to have them in their neighborhoods. However the homeless person has to find a place to be during the day, and that place is inevitably going to be a populated area.

It is not generally considered that a home is much more than a place to sleep. It is also the place you can go when there is no other place for you to be. Without such a place you have the constant necessity of being somewhere at all times, and if there is no place at all that you are welcome to be this becomes a serious problem. Your choices are to find places where you can be invisible or to be somewhere you can blend in with others. Invisibility is relatively impractical in the daytime, so most homeless gather in busy commercial areas during the day.

The result is that the places the homeless spend their days are distant from where the shelters are generally located. This may not seem much of an issue to most people, who are used to traveling considerable distances between home and work and recreational activities, but without a car the picture is quite different. Public transportation outside the larger cities (and even within many of them) is virtually unusable, so already using a shelter will involve spending much of the day getting back and forth, with all of your belongings. Add to all of this the fact that shelters are generally first come first served, so you may well spend the time and effort to get there only to be turned away, and be faced with having to get back to your resource base, and it is easy to see why a shelter might not be a practical choice for many homeless people.

So we cannot say that these people are unreasonably refusing available help, and none of the other arguments we have considered seem to offer good reasons why we should refuse these people help. We do not apply the same standards to other kinds of help; if someone is drowning, we do not ask whether they did something foolish to put them in this plight before helping them. When someone’s house burns down we do not refuse help on the grounds that their carelessness caused the fire.

There is only one attribute that distinguishes the homeless from the rest of the population, and that is poverty. This social punishment is being inflicted upon them with no due process because they are poor. 

Class Warfare is Real

Attempts even to define, let alone ameliorate, the degree of social injustice suffered by the poor at the hands of the rich are met with indignant cries of “class warfare.” This is reminiscent of the child’s explanation that “it all started when Johnny hit me back!” The plain and simple fact is that class warfare has been a clear and present reality throughout history, and it has been waged by the rich against the poor.  The primary weapon in that war has been and remains the control of the money system.

In any society more complex than a tribe there must be some mechanism for deciding how resources are to be allocated among its members. In our society that mechanism is money. All resources, both necessities and luxuries, are virtually unobtainable except in exchange for money. Therefore the struggle to survive and prosper, rather than involving the direct obtaining of resources as it was for hunter/gatherers, becomes instead the obtaining of money with which to purchase the resources. This is not in and of itself necessarily a wrong or harmful system, but it does mean that whoever has the power to make the rules concerning money and how it is distributed possesses the means of absolute control if they choose to use that power to that end. History has shown that most do. Clearly this is a socially undesirable situation, since it obviously advantages a very small segment of society over the vast majority. 

This does not necessarily imply that it is harmful to be governed by a small number of people. I am not necessarily advocating the position that the entire population should be involved with all decision making, which some conceive of as being made possible by the Internet and mass two way communications. A strong case can be made that, as with all pursuits, a relatively few are good at making decisions for the public benefit, and most are not, and we should put the right people in charge and let them lead. It is quite feasible to devise a system aimed at producing that end, and avoiding the obvious pitfalls involved in the very necessary process of giving people power. The system we have now for electing our leaders is one that is guaranteed to bring about the worst possible results for the population as a whole. This is because it is controlled by the money interests.

Money and the way we use money is perhaps the most important consideration in the field of social philosophy. It is also, not coincidentally, perhaps the most difficult consideration. Coming to a true understanding of the true nature of money, and how its use has been perverted to serve the interests of the hereditary power structure, presents enormous challenges. We must overcome habits of thought and assumptions that are so ingrained within us that we are barely even aware of their existence. We must come to terms with the seeming paradox of something that is a symbol for value, and which can be exchanged for things if actual value, yet which itself has no value. We must recognize that it is precisely the false idea that money is itself a commodity to be bought and sold that enables what should be a useful, indeed essential, tool has instead been turned into a weapon of social control.

Any attempt to upend such a deeply ingrained pattern of thought inevitably meets certain kinds of objection. “It has always been that way, and will never change.” “Power always corrupts the powerful, and nothing can be done about that.” “The system of control is just too powerful and all-pervasive, and will never give up its power.” We must examine each of these contentions (and other like them) and answer them convincingly. We must show how things came to be the way they are, which happened neither by chance nor by some inevitable process nor by wise and intelligent design, but rather was instituted to benefit those who established themselves as leaders at the very start, and who wised to retain that position and pass it on to their descendants. We must examine in detail the ever increasingly sophisticated ways this basic strategy has been implemented through history, and recognize the resulting social harm.

Only by fully understanding this history can we even define the true nature of the problem we face, let alone set about devising remedies. Much social analysis is devoted to attempts to fix the glaring inequities in our society by tinkering with the rules; indeed one common strategy of the power structure is to give way on issues that do not really address the fundamental problems in order to foster an illusion of improvement that satisfies the easily persuaded that something is really being done and progress being made, thus blunting the force of opposition. 

The philosophy of gradualism can be a very tempting one, but we must recognize that there must come a time when true fundamental change is needed. In order to reach this recognition it is not enough to define the problems or even to suggest possible solutions, however well conceived those solutions might be. In order to achieve real change we need to go beyond everyday politics. We need to be willing to tackle questions of right and wrong. We need to establish a strong ethical case for change. 

We must show, without appealing to religious beliefs or notions about an afterlife, that it is possible to define a moral basis for deciding what are our responsibilities towards our fellow humans and the other occupants of the reality we inhabit, and towards those who will have to deal with what we leave them. This seems to me to be one of the man shortcomings of the Democratic party. They have ceded the ground of the debate to those whose main concern is the interests of the powerful; election campaigns are all about policies and practicalities and plans. We get mired in thickets of detail and lose sight of the principles that should guide our actions. 

It is fashionable to regard the political spectrum as a range of possible views on how society should be governed, and to think that if we can all sit down and talk it out we can reach a reasonable compromise. This is not the case. There are two very distinct and quite incompatible points of view being represented. They are not morally and ethically equal, and we need to recognize this. Class warfare is real and has been waged by the rich in increasingly subtle ways upon everyone else for all of history. The only way the situation can ever be righted is for the overwhelming majority to recognize that their interests are in fact aligned and they have been deliberately set against each other. This begins with establishing a firm ethical case for their point of view. It is very difficult to move people by appealing to their reason, but their innate sense of fairness, once activated, will carry the day.

The True Nature of Wealth

The word wealth is derived from the old English word weal, which means wellbeing. It denoted something that increased the wellbeing of one or more people. Unfortunately over the centuries the word has come to have a quite different meaning in the general public perception, namely valuable possessions or property. The term has shifted in meaning from the actual wellbeing derived from something to the thing itself, which is (in theory at least) the agent of that wellbeing. In the process the whole idea of wellbeing has been lost. Something is perceived as wealth if it can be exchanged for other items of value or for money. Even money itself in sufficient quantities, is perceived as wealth.

The reason that this shift is unfortunate is that there is no longer a common term for what wealth used to mean, whereas the new meaning already had several words that covered it quite adequately such as treasure or riches. Wellbeing itself does not quite cover it, as it refers to the result of the creation of wealth, so it does not serve to signify the wealth (in its original meaning) itself. It has been observed that a culture can only express (and therefore encompass) ideas that it has words for. The very fact that I have to use whole sentences to explain the original meaning of wealth indicates that it is not a concept we think about much. Yet if we are to have any hope of understanding where we went wrong in the building of our social structures, and certainly if we are to hope to devise new and better ones, it is a concept that we must give a central place to in our thinking. 

For these reasons I would like to define here exactly what I mean whenever I use the word wealth. Wealth is created when someone performs an action that results in the increase in wellbeing of one or more people in such a way that the total increase in wellbeing is greater than the total decrease in wellbeing caused to other people (or indeed to the same people). In understanding this definition, it may be useful to think of wealth as if it were spelled wellth, and imagine an opposite concept called illth.  Every human action of any significance produces some wellth and some illth. As my Nanny would have said, it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Obviously wellth and illth are very hard to quantify, especially given the inevitability of unintended (and unforeseeable) consequences, but nothing in life is certain; all we can do is guide our actions by estimating probabilities. 

The amount of wealth resulting from any action is the total aggregated wellth produced (adding up all the people who benefit from it and the degree to which they benefit)  minus the total aggregated illth produced by that action. Now we are faced with the issue of a scale of measurement. If we were dealing with physical size we would be measuring in inches and feet, or meters or some such. Weight is measured in pounds and kilos. The unit of measurement we use for wealth (in my restricted meaning) is the dollar, or the euro, or the yen. The measuring system for wealth is money. In an ideal system the monetary value of something would reflect the total potential wellth it represents.

Clearly in our present system this is not the case. Many actions covered by my definition of wealth are not monetarily rewarded. To take one glaring omission, childcare by stay-at-home mothers yields enormous increases in wellbeing both for the children involved and for society at large in obvious ways that I need not elaborate here. Yet this activity is not monetarily rewarded. Therefore this contribution is not considered wealth generation.

On the other hand the current understanding of what constitutes wealth creation includes many activities that I would put on the other side of the scale. An example of this is the arms business. It would be very hard to argue that a bomb or a tank represents wellth. Indeed such weapons are the very embodiment of illth. Their sole purpose is the destruction of people and property. No doubt some would argue that the possession of powerful weapons serves a deterrent purpose against the potential violence of others. This argument would perhaps have more power if it were not made by a country that in many cases sold to those others the weapons we now wish to deter them from using. Even if we grant some force to this point of view, it is dwarfed by the immense harm that is caused to the world, especially to the poor of the world, by the global arms trade. Perhaps the greates social challenge facing us on a global scale is to cotinue the immense decrease in the amount of violence in the world (exhaustively documented by Steven Pinker in his book “The Better Angels of our Nature”) to the point where war is considered to be on a similar moral level as slavery is today. We may never completely eliminate it but we can reach a general agreement that it is evil and should be eliminated.

It is clear from these examples, which although among the largest of their kind are far from being unique, that there is something very wrong with the metrics we use to judge our degree of success and failure as a society. The GNP is often touted as a barometer of our economic health, but this only describes the total monetary value of all production that is monetarily rewarded. It both leaves out a great deal of value that is added but not paid for, and also includes paid for activities that cause far more harm than good.

The (Lack of) Legitimacy in the Ownership of Property

The natural state of things is that nothing is owned. It is for those who would assert ownership over resources to justify their claim, not for those who would challenge the claim to justify their challenge. This is not to say that such claims are incapable of being justified; it may well possible for an owner to present a compelling case to justify his ownership; however the burden is on him to prove his case. The assumption in all cases is that resources are not owned.

Claims of ownership rest on one of five circumstances, or some combination of them: inheritance, purchase, gift, a grant of ownership from a legal government authority, or appropriation by force. In the first three cases the person or persons bequeathing, selling or giving the property must themselves be legal owners of the property similarly legally obtained by one of these five actions, and so on back to the very first owner.

There must have been a first owner, since there was unquestionably a time in the past when nothing in the world was owned, because ownership itself had not been thought of. This does not mean that the lands were not occupied and used, it just means that nobody had thought of asserting the exclusive right to a piece of land or the right to charge others for the use of it. No doubt pre-agricultural humans, like other animals, would establish territories, but they only occupied them to the extent that they could physically assert their right to do so. They did not think the land belonged to them exclusively.

What, then, was the first owner’s legitimate claim to the property, which started this whole chain? This person could not have received it by any of the first four methods, or he (I am betting the very first owner of anything was a he) would not be the first owner. That only leaves appropriation by force, or what we would call today armed robbery. We can rule out number four, a grant from an established government, as this must have taken place before the first established authority structure; in fact the first assertion of ownership must have created the need for the means of enforcement of property claims. The only point of asserting ownership of something is to prevent others from using it unless they pay you. Naturally people who had always traditionally used the land would angrily resist such an assertion, and so the putative owner needed muscle, and so the whole control system begins.

The inevitable conclusion we must reach is that all property rights are illegitimate from the very start. Now I realize that this argument would probably not get very far in court, but this does not mean it is not correct. It just means that some things that are correct bring with them so much uncertainty and fear of deep rooted change the even those who stand to gain the most by it cannot be brought to support them, let alone those who actually make the decisions, who have much to lose from large scale change.

This may not always be the case. Ideas and attitudes die with each generation, and a time will come when it becomes quite obvious that allowing a minuscule class to continue to rule over everyone by simply asserting their right to do so is quite ridiculous. Therefore it seems important to lay the ethical groundwork for this realization.

How the Few Control the Many

There is a tiny class of people in the world today

who have incomes far in excess of what it takes to meet their necessities, who did nothing to earn this position except for having emerged from between a particular pair of legs. This is not to say by any means that they are all useless people. In many cases they work hard and use their money in socially beneficial ways. However the fact remains that they enjoy a priceless privilege denied to those not born to money, which is that any work they do is voluntary rather than compulsory. There is no condition more onerous to most of the population than the need to meet the monthly nut. It is said that money does not buy happiness but this is not altogether true. A person who is free of that burden, who has enough to live on and more without having to work for it is relieved of a constant and grinding worry. Even those who earn “good” money these days can seldom reach place where they can relax and nor have to worry about the possibility of sudden financial reversals: loss of employment or a major illness or the like. Certainly, being relieved of this burden does not ensure happiness, but it does remove a very large impediment to it. Unfortunately those with inherited money have never known what it is to have to struggle, and so have even less idea of what a privilege it is not to have do so. As Alexandr Solzenitsyn remarks: it is hard for someone who has always been warm to appreciate the position of one who is freezing.

This lack of sympathy for the poor is compounded by the fact that most of the people whose voices are heard loudest, the opinion makers and movers and shakers of the world, are themselves most often among the ranks of the comfortably off. Even if they do not start out wealthy, if they have articulate and persuasive voices they are often co-opted into the system they fight against. They land well-paid positions as commentators or columnists or perhaps as union officials or even elected representatives. In these positions they rub shoulders with the wealthy, eat at their tables, and gradually succumb to the Stockholm Syndrome. It is true that not all follow this path, and there are certainly prominent and articulate voices that continue to fight the good fight in spite of having themselves attained some degree of security, and there are wealthy people who also have sympathy for and work on behalf of the poor. However both groups are fighting an almost all-encompassing system that opposes their efforts. 

The truth is that the wealthy, the ownership classes, are able to make their voices heard effectively where it really counts, in the places where the important decisions are made. They can afford the best lobbyists and the best lawyers and the best political consultants. They can fund think-tanks that can crank out a constant barrage of well-crafted arguments for their points of view.

Meanwhile interests of the poor are vastly under-represented in these same places. In criminal court they have to rely on public defenders who are far too few and underfunded, while the wealthy can afford the highest priced lawyers. In civil cases the poor cannot afford lawyers to represent them, and so are not only vulnerable to being sued but also cannot themselves afford to sue when their rights are violated. Above all they do not have time or energy left over after what it takes to earn a living and have some kind of family life to fight a seemingly impregnable system.

One might think that the overwhelming advantage of the poor would be their sheer numbers. Yet history has shown clearly that a very small number can effectively enslave an entire population. This is achieved by several interlinked methods. Foremost among them is the manipulation of public opinion by means of what was once called propaganda, and now goes by the less threatening term public relations. This is used in a program of divide and conquer. Realizing the danger of being overwhelmed by being in a numerical minority, every effort is expended to keep the rest of the population from combining against them by encouraging them to fight among themselves.

This is helped by the fact that the political right tends to march in lockstep, since they are always seeking to promote the interests of those who pay their bills, and therefore can present a united front, whereas the left seek to promote social justice, which is a much harder concept to agree on. Our society suffers from so many different kinds of social injustice that it is very hard to get agreement on the left as to exactly what actions to take to improve the situation. Different interest groups fight for attention, and the effort is weakened by being scattered in so many directions.

In addition to these disadvantages, the wealthy are able to pursue very long term goals. When they are defeated in a particular sphere they can afford to wait a few years before trying again. The left must each time raise public awareness to once again oppose them. Their supporters become weary of constantly fighting different versions of the same battles, and must often rely on unpaid volunteers, whereas the right is always well funded.

Constitutional Originalism

A persistent error in our thinking about the enterprise of society and government and all those concerns about how we should live, and under what laws, and who should be in charge has to do with the idea that there is some golden age in the past when everything was right and leaders were wise. All we have to do is return to the values of that time and all will be well. There are those, for instance, who say that the United States Constitution should be should be read entirely according to the intentions of the original authors, as if they were endowed with some level of wisdom superior to ours. 

This is saying that the United States population reached peak wisdom in the mid-1700’s, which seems like an unlikely situation. It would mean that we have learned nothing since then, and that more than 200 years of thinking about it has not yielded any better ideas than those of a group of people who lived at the very beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, which utterly transformed our lives and gave rise to power structures that were completely new. Don’t get me wrong, I have immense respect for the Founding Fathers, and given the constraints under which they were working they did a monumental job to an extremely high standard. But they were not omniscient, and were far from omnipotent, and they knew it. If they thought that what they were writing should stand for all time, why did they build in the ability to amend it, and give that ability to both Congress and the states?

All written documents share one serious drawback: words and language change their meaning over time. We do not speak the language even of our grandparents, still less of the eighteenth century. There are concepts today that there were not even words for then, and there are words they used that now have opposite meanings.

It makes no more sense to follow the literal meaning of the constitution according to the understanding of the authors than it would to limit yourself to only wearing your grandparents’ clothes.