Monday, August 21, 2017

Are We Fiddling While Rome Burns?

Solutions abound, but they require the retirement of obsolete systems that defend entrenched interests and soul-crushing inequalities.
It turns out Nero wasn't fiddling as Rome burned--he was 60 km away at the time. Did Nero Really Fiddle While Rome Burned?
The story has become short-hand for making light of a catastrophe, either out of self-interest (one theory had Nero clearing a site he desired for a palace with the fire) or out of a mad detachment from reality.
Are we fiddling while Rome burns? I would say yes--because we're not solving any of the structural problems that are dooming the status quo. Instead, we're allowing a corrupt, corporate mainstream media to distract us with fake "Russians hacked our election" hysteria, false "cultural war" mania, and a laughably Orwellian frenzy over fake news which magically avoids mentioning the propaganda narrativespushed 24/7 by the mainstream media--narratives that are the acme of fake news.
The media is only half the problem, of course; the audience doesn't want to hear about structural problems that can only be fixed by disrupting the status quo. If we don't accept that the financial system we inhabit is imploding, maybe all the problems will go away.
The system is coughing up blood and we still want to believe it is "recovering" from a cold.
Here's a short list of structural problems we should be tackling:
1. Soaring inequality and the institutionalization of economic privilege.Systemic economic privilege doesn't exist in a vacuum--it's enforced by a centralized hierarchy, a dynamic I describe in my book Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege. Systemic inequality doesn't just undermine the economy--it also undermines the social and political orders.
2. The central state (government) has one default setting: endless expansion into every nook and cranny of daily life. There are no mechanisms for contraction and no institutional memory of government reducing its control of every aspect of life.
As I explain in my book Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change, this concentration of power attracts concentrations of wealth which then buy the machinery of governance: democracy is reduced to an auction that excludes the bottom 99.9%.
3. Finance has detached from the real-world economy, distorting every function via financialization, which concentrates income and wealth in the hands of the few. As I have often explained in the blog (and in my book Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform), if we don't change the way we create and distribute credit-money, we change nothing.
4. Our educational system is obsolete but the the current system is incapable of transformation for structural reasons. These include high sunk costs, bureaucratic sclerosis, self-serving fiefdoms that fear disruption of their gravy trains, a lack of understanding of the emerging economy, a dysfunctional centralized hierarchy and the state-funded exploitive machinery of student-loan debt.
I explain all this and present a model that would cut costs by 90% in my book The Nearly Free University and the Emerging Economy.
5. The economy and thus our society (i.e. our mode of production) are changing beneath our feet in dramatic ways. Highly centralized hierarchies (government, corporations) are the wrong unit size and structure to manage this transformation to the benefit of all rather than to the benefit of the few.
I present a decentralized non-state, non-corporate, non-financialized model in my book A Radically Beneficial World: Automation, Technology & Creating Jobs for All.
For individuals navigating these disruptive forces, I wrote an overview guide to the emerging economy, Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.
Solutions abound, but they require the retirement of obsolete systems that defend entrenched interests and soul-crushing inequalities. The world is changing rapidly, and centralized systems that worked well in the past are failing because they are optimized for a world that no longer exists.
The status quo is coughing up blood, and the situation is dire. Denial won't fix what's broken, and neither will magical thinking (the economy is "recovering," symbolic gestures and virtue-signaling will fix everything, etc.) Clinging to the absurd hope that the status quo just has a nagging cold will only increase the disorder when the system breaks down.


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Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.

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Beware the "The Cultural Civil War" Narrative: You're Being Played

There is always common ground for those who dare to seek it.
Remember the "Russians hacked our election!" hysteria--or have you already forgotten? That entire narrative collapsed under a deluge of factual evidence that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) data release was an insider job, and a compelling lack of evidence of any other Russian hacking.
That failed narrative has now been replaced with a new mass hysteria: "a new cultural Civil War is inevitable." In this narrative, America has succumbed to us-versus-them divisions divided by all-or-nothing ideological bright lines.
Snap out of it, America: you're being played, just as you were played by the absurd "Russia hacked the election" mania.
The core strategy here is the destruction of any common ground: once the delusion that there is no common ground left has been cemented by relentless mainstream and social media hysteria/ propaganda, the populace fragments into echo-chamber fiefdoms of ideological conformity that are easily manipulated by the political-financial power structure.
Once the populace has been fragmented into ideologically divisive camps, controlling the resulting mass of warring mobs is easy. Rather than recognize the commonality of their powerlessness and impoverishment, the fragmented fiefdoms are easily turned on each other:
From the point of view of each fragmented fiefdom, , the problem isn't structural, i.e. the dominance of extreme concentrations of wealth and power; the "problem" is the other cultural-ideological fiefdoms.
Once the masses accept this false division and the destruction of common ground, their power to reverse the extreme concentrations of wealth and power is shattered. The play is as old as civilization itself: conjure up extremists (paying them when necessary), goad the formation of opposing extremists, then convince the populace that these extremists have been normalized, i.e. your friends and neighbors already belong to one or the other.
This normalization then sets up the relentless demands to choose a side-- the classic techniques of misdirection and false choice.
Just as you're sold a triple-bacon cheeseburger or a hybrid auto, you're being sold a completely fabricated cultural civil war. There have always been extremists on every edge of the ideological spectrum, just as there have always been religious zealots.
In a healthy society, these fringe pools of self-reinforcing fanaticism are given their proper place: they are outliers, representing self-reinforcing black holes of confirmation bias of a few.
In times of social, political and financial stress, such groups pop up like mushrooms. In times of media saturation, a relative handful can gain enormous exposure and importance because the danger they pose sells adverts and attracts eyeballs/viewers.
Add a little fragmentation, virtue-signaling, demands for ideological conformity and voila, you get a deeply fragmented and deranged populace that is incapable of recognizing the dire straits it is in or recognizing the structural sources of its impoverishment and powerlessness.
In other words, you get an easily mallable populace at false war with itself.
There is always common ground for those who dare to seek it. The Powers That Be are blowing up the bridges as fast as they can, whipping up fear and hatred of the Other, fanning the flames of extremism and claiming extremists are now normalized and everywhere.
All of this is false. Would you buy an entirely manipulated cultural civil war if it was advertised as such? If not, then don't buy into the false (but oh so useful to the ruling elites) narrative of an "inevitable cultural Civil War."



If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.
Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

We Need a Social Revolution

Governments and corporations cannot restore social connectedness and balance to our lives.
In the conventional view, there are two kinds of revolutions: political and technological. Political revolutions may be peaceful or violent, and technological revolutions may transform civilizations gradually or rather abruptly—for example, revolutionary advances in the technology of warfare.
In this view, the engines of revolution are the state--government in all its layers and manifestations—and the corporate economy.
In a political revolution, a new political party or faction gains converts to its narrative, and this new force replaces the existing political order, either via peaceful means or violent revolution.
Technological revolutions arise from many sources but end up being managed by the state and private sector, which each influence and control the other in varying degrees.
Conventional history focuses on top-down political revolutions of the violent “regime change” variety: the American Revolution (1776), the French Revolution (1789), the Russian Revolution (1917), the Chinese Revolution (1949), and so on.
Technology has its own revolutionary hierarchy; the advances of the Industrial Revolutions I, II, III and now IV, have typically originated with inventors and proto-industrialists who relied on private capital and banking to fund large-scale buildouts of new industries: rail, steel manufacturing, shipbuilding, the Internet, etc.
The state may direct and fund technological revolutions as politically motivated projects, for example the Manhattan project to develop nuclear weapons and the Space Race to the Moon in the 1960s.
These revolutions share a similar structure: a small cadre leads a large-scale project based on a strict hierarchy in which the revolution is pushed down the social pyramid by the few at the top to the many below. Even when political and industrial advances are accepted voluntarily by the masses, the leadership and structure of the controlling mechanisms are hierarchical: political power, elected or not, is concentrated in the hands of a few at the top. Corporations are commercial autocracies; leadership is highly concentrated and orders are imposed on the bottom 99% of employees with military-like authority.
Social Revolutions Are Not Top-Down
But there is another class of revolution that does not share this hierarchical structure, nor does it manifest in the large-scale, top-down power-pyramids of the state and private corporations: social revolutions are bottoms-up affairs, lacking centralized leadership and hierarchical control mechanisms.
Social revolutions eventually influence the state and private sector, but they do not require the permission, funding or leadership of these hierarchies; as a rule, social revolutions drag the state and corporate sectors forward, kicking and screaming, as the social fabric and values of the populace change and the state and corporate sector cling to the status quo.
Examples of recent social revolutions include the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, the Counterculture of the 1960s, and the gay rights movement. The leadership of the state resisted each revolution, and was essentially forced to adapt to the new social order as it became mainstream.
Once corporations figured out ways to profit from the transformed social order, they quickly introduced new products and fresh marketing: all-Caucasian advertising, for example, gave way to targeted ethnic advertising and mixed-race national advert campaigns.
When social revolutions are suppressed by the state, they may spark a political revolution as the socially oppressed come to see the overthrow of the autocratic political order as a necessary step towards liberation.
In other cases, social revolutions may have little immediate impact on the political stage. Faith-based social secular movements--for example, the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century-- were not overtly political; their eventual political impact (temperance, woman’s rights and support for the abolition of slavery) may manifest decades later.
In summary: social revolutions may generate political waves, but they need not be overtly political to do so, nor do they rely on political, financial or technological hierarchies to transform society.
The Decline of Social Groups and the Erosion of the Social Order
Robert Putman’s 2000 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, documented the decline of social connections and what we might calling belonging in American society with reams of data. This erosion of social bonds is not limited to social groups such as bowling leagues; it is secular, spanning every social type of connection from family picnics to community and neighborhood groups.
If we extend Putnam’s findings to the core human bonds of family and friendships, we find the same fraying of social ties; people have fewer close friends, are more isolated and lonely, and family relationships are increasingly superficial or characterized by alienation.
The factors feeding this broad-based decline of connectedness and social capital are many: the nation’s economic mode of production has changed, requiring two incomes where one once sufficed, and globalization has increased both the demands on those with jobs and the number of adults who have fallen out of the work force.
This winner-takes-most economy has been accompanied by the rise of political divisiveness, a brand of politics that fosters us-versus-them disunity and the erosion of common ground in favor of demonized opponents and all-or-nothing loyalty to one party or cause.
The technological revolutions of broadcast television and radio homogenized the mainstream media even as they provided superficial substitutes for social engagement. The technologies of social media, mobile telephony and narrowcast echo-chambers of uniform opinion have created even more addictive forms of distraction that are not just shredding social connectedness—they’re destroying our ability to form and nurture social bonds, even within the family.
This dynamic was explored in a recent essay in The Atlantic, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?
Any careful observer of present-day family life would add that the addictive draw of mobile telephony has also damaged the parents’ generation and the family unit itself.
Cui Bono: To Whose Benefit?
Longtime readers know I often begin an inquiry with the time-tested question: cui bono, to whose benefit? Who has benefited from the erosion of the social fabric and social capital, from the politics of divisiveness and the mass addiction to the technologies of superficial connectedness?
While we can take note of soaring corporate profits, and draw a causal connection between these profits and the modern-day “always connected to work” lifestyle of high-productivity corporate employees, it’s difficult to argue that corporations have benefited directly from the loss of social capital that characterizes American life.
Rather, it seems that the corporation’s relentless pursuit of narrowly defined self-interest, i.e. maximizing profits by whatever means are available, has laid waste to boundaries between work and home life as collateral damage.
In a similar fashion, purveyors of smartphones and the software and content that render them so addictive don’t necessarily benefit directly from the destruction of intimate, authentic social bonds, but they certainly have prospered from the feeding of the smartphone addiction. Once again, the loss of authentic social connectedness is collateral damage.
While it seems quite clear that political groups have fueled divisiveness to their own benefit, does the state (government in all its forms) benefit from the fraying of the social order? It’s difficult to discern a direct benefit to the state, though it might be argued that a fractured populace is easier to control.
But the erosion of the social order has gone beyond fracture into disintegration, and it’s hard to see how class wars and social disunity benefit the state, which ultimately relies on some measure of social unity for its authority, which flows from the consent of the governed.
It's Time To Take Our Future Back
In Part 2: Rescuing Our Future, we focus on the self-evident truth that governments and corporations cannot restore social connectedness and balance to our lives.Only a social revolution that is self-organizing from the bottom-up can do that.
And we detail out the specific steps each of us can and should take to develop the values and skills required to form and maintain authentic social wealth—the wealth of friendship, of social gatherings, of belonging.
It takes courage and independence to swim against the toxic tides of our economy and society. The good news is that true wealth is within reach of everyone. The steps we each need take are clear; it's just a matter of having the will to invest the time and effort.
Do you have it?
Click here to read the report  (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access)
Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Are Profit and Healthcare Incompatible?

The only way to systemically lower costs is to make prevention and transparency the top priorities.
As I have been noting for a decade, the broken U.S. healthcare system will bankrupt the nation all by itself. We all know the basic facts: the system delivers uneven results in terms of improving health and life expectancy while costing two or three times more per person compared to our advanced-economy global competitors.
This chart says it all: the global outlier in low life expectancy and exorbitant cost is the U.S.
The profit motive is supposed to lower costs, not increase them. In the idealized model of a completely free market, the profit motive is supposed to lower costs as customers are free to choose the best product/service for the lowest price.
In U.S. healthcare, the profits are stupendous, yet the costs are even more stupendous. Rather than lower costs, the U.S. system of for-profit healthcare has sent costs spiraling into the stratosphere, to the point that the system's costs are threatening to bankrupt the government and the nation.
Why is this so? Karl Marx provided the answer in the 19th century. In the idealized model of free-market capitalism, those who provide superior services for the lowest price reap more profit than their less agile/productive competitors.
But as Marx observed, in real-world capitalism, open competition drives profits to zero. Every attempt to gain a competitive advantage in price increases supply and further commoditizes the product/service. This dynamic pushes prices down to the point that nobody can make a profit until competitors are driven out of business and a cartel or monopoly secures the market and controls supply, price and profit.
The most profitable structures in real-world capitalism are monopolies or cartels-- which is precisely what characterizes U.S. healthcare. The only way to maximize profits is to ruthlessly eliminate competition in the marketplace--which is exactly how the U.S. healthcare system operates: the pharmaceutical industry is a cartel, hospital chains are a cartel, insurance companies are a cartel, and so on.
In the real world of state-cartel-capitalism, competition is eliminated so cartels can maximize profits.
Do-gooders are always claiming that the system could be fixed by re-introducing competition-- this was the core idea behind Obamacare's insurance exchanges--but the do-gooders are blind to the core dynamic of state-cartel-capitalism, which is cartels own the machinery of governance via lobbying and campaign contributions. The state creates and protects the cartels, period.
In state-cartel-capitalism, there is no way to maintain real competition, as the cartels instruct the state to protect their monopolies/cartels. State reformers can try all sorts of complex reform schemes (ObamaCare) but they fail to lower costs because they all leave the cartel structure and cartel ownership of governance intact.
In the good old days of the 1950s and 1960s, U.S. healthcare was more localized, and the central state (federal government) wasn't the Sugar Daddy for the cartels. Hospitals were community hospitals (what a quaint idea in today's hyper-cartelized system) managed by physicians and administrators who saw their role as serving the community rather than arranging for $20 million annual salaries and millions of dollars in stock options.
This is why the cartels love Medicare For All proposals: the federal government--protector and funder of the cartels--will give the cartels a blank check not just for the 120 million people currently drawing benefits from Medicare/Medicaid but for all 325 million Americans.
Fast facts on Medicare and Medicaid (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services)
Medicare Beneficiaries: 57.7 million
Medicaid Beneficiaries: 72.3 million
estimated dual Beneficiaries (drawing benefits from both programs): 10 million
Total Beneficiaries: 120 million
Medicare/Medicaid budget, 2015: $1.2 trillion
Total U.S. healthcare costs: $3.2 trillion, 18% of GDP
Department of Defense budget, 2015: $575 billion
source
Are profit and healthcare incompatible? In the real world of state-cartel-capitalism, the answer is yes: a profit-maximizing system fails to deliver prevention while pushing costs higher, eventually bankrupting the Sugar Daddy government and the nation.
Prevention, like a bag of carrots, is intrinsically low-profit. Illness, especially chronic illness, is highly profitable because the profits flow continuously from treatments, medications, procedures, tests, visits, hospitalization, home care, a constant churn of billing, etc.
The only way to systemically lower costs is to make prevention and transparency the top priorities. Prevention, community ownership of healthcare services, transparency and unfettered competition kill profits, period. Yet these are the only way to lower costs to be in line with our competitors.
You can reconfigure the system any way you want, but you have to eliminate cartels, cartel ownership of governance, opaque pricing, government blank checks and incentives for profiteering from chronic illness. If you don't eliminate all these, you've fixed nothing.



If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.
Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.

NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
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