Monday, November 25, 2013

Wisdom from Aristide's "Eyes of the Heart"

pg 36 of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization. Common Courage Press, 2000.

Do not confuse democracy with the holding of elections every four or five years. Elections are the exam, testing the health of our system. Voter participation is the grade. But school is in session every day. Only the day-to-day participation of the people at all levels of governance can breath life into democracy and create the possibility for people to play a significant role in shaping the state and the society that they want.

Auntie Greed: maybe this is a nice point to emphasize about the November 24 referendum vote in Switzerland. The youth wing of the JUSO had proposed and won more than 100,000 signatures to a petition. That led to a referendum on a proposal that the top pay within any Swiss company be held to no more than 12 times the pay of the lowest wage earner in the same company. If the measure would have passed, then executive pay would have been lowered for those companies, and lowest wages in those companies would have been raised to allow the top executives to earn greater amounts.

The referendum failed with 35 yea vote to 65 no vote margin. Remember now, Aristide said the vote was merely the grade. The fact that Swiss citizens are engaged with the issues demonstrates the true power of their democracy. Salute to the Swiss and their attempts (there have been other ballot measures) to raise questions about inequality of pay scales.

My opinion is that such a ratio based policy on pay scales would not have worked. If the Swiss would have passed the measure and executed the letter of the resulting laws, then companies would have exited the country and conducted their business under more favorable laws. That is a crucial point I have been making about corporations and businesses. They are not citizens. They are not bound to any location or nation. They are only bound to profits and the good of their owners/stock holders. Switzerland would have lost out if the measure would have succeeded on the ballot.

Also, nothing would have prevented a company wanting inordinate pay for their top executives to end up subcontracting a great deal of their business. That would be a pretty simple model for a company to operate. A bank could contract each of its branch locations to some pseudo firms. The top earners of those sub-contractors could only receive the maximum pay of 12 times the lowest paid bank teller. But the true bank would get to set it's executive pay at some higher level because it would no longer employ those underpaid tellers.

What I hope the Swiss leaders and the rest of the world appreciates is that the democratic systems are working, and the voices of those who are hurt by the current level of inequality are being heard. As their voices join together under some common mantras, they will organize and find solutions that fit the needs of the many countries around the world.

All my best,
Auntie Greed

Friday, November 8, 2013

     The book "Eyes of the Heart" was published in the year 2000 with the controversial Jean-Bertrand Aristide as the author. He ends Chapter One: A Crisis in Faith in this way:

     "Behind this crisis of dollars there is a human crisis: among the poor, immeasurable human suffering; among the others, the powerful, the policy makers, a poverty of spirit which has made a religion of the market and its invisible hand. A crisis of imagination so profound that the only measure of value is profit, the only measure of human progress is economic growth.

     "We have not reached the consensus that to eat is a basic human right. this is an ethical crisis. This is a crisis of faith.

     "Global capitalism becomes a machine devouring our planet. The little finger, the men and women of the poorest 20%, are reduced to cogs in this machine, the bottom rung in global production, valued only as cheap labor, otherwise altogether disposable. The machine cannot and does not measure their suffering. The machine also does not measure the suffering of our planet. Every second an area the size of a soccer field is deforested. this fact alone should be mobilizing men and women to protect their most basic interest -- oxygen. But the machine overwhelms us. . . ."

     I agree with him and wish that I could make many of the same points in my arguments for an individual income cap.

     Behind the economic turbulence there are other factors, other measurements we should be addressing. (First we would have to notice them.) Too many of the scholars and pundits are concentrating on the financial economy as the priority and hoping that other issues render their own solutions once the prosperous times return. My concentration is on limiting greed. My highest expectation though is that we humans will then recall how much we value so many other aspects of humanity (community, arts, leisure, wellness, family, etc.) once the profits and the excessive wealth are capped.

     As Aristide points out, the worshipping of the excessively wealthy, the aspiring to have what they have, the competition for status (Veblen) among those wealthy, has wrenched the spirit out of so many well-to-do people that they are not noticing their roles in turning up the suffering on the poverty stricken. Not only do the poor own nothing, they also have no opportunities in their futures because the richest people are drawing more and more of the value and the finances and the wealth to themselves.

     Let us shake off this money worship by limiting the income of individuals. Once a person earns 10 million Euros in a year's time, have that person walk away from the table and give others chances to earn better incomes. Then we could move towards recognizing all those things that are more valuable than profits, more valuable than individual greed. And we can measure the happiness indices, we can live upon some more humane indices in addition to our economic growth.

     In his second paragraph, Aristide names a crisis in faith. A crisis in faith is when one does not believe in a proposal, is doubtful about some aspect of the future. Societies do not see food for all as a basic human right, comparable to the right we all have to free speech, or the right to practice our religions without persecution. We individuals may not have faith that there will be enough food for "my own family" if all people are promised food. That is a crisis of faith. My argument is then that the excessively wealthy and those who wish to emulate them, will grab up all they can (expressing their greed) to protect their own families (or their individual futures). They will take financial advantage over others to express that individual greed. If we can cap that greed, and if our economic systems can keep growing under the conditions of capped individual incomes, then we may grow in our faith, grow in our confidence that the world can feed all people, that all people can be provided for without threatening the futures of anyone who contributes. I hope more people can give consideration to these ideas and raise their faith.

     There is wide agreement on the points of his third paragraph. The laborers are thought to be disposable. Any workplace lay off is judged simply on the balance sheets and profit calculations -- hardly ever in humane ways. Meanwhile those unemployed are powerless against the machines of capitalism and of nation-wide politics. As the working poor watch the mistreatment of the unemployed, they are simply relieved that they were able to hold on a little longer. They too are powerless against the machine. And we do not value our natural resources, our held-in-common societal resources while our focus remains on the dollars, Euros, Yen, Reals, etc.

     I hope to clearly state my eleven points in such a way that the crisis in faith can be remedied, turned around.