Posts Tagged ‘USA’
Quick distinction before we begin: atheism states there is no conclusive proof god exists; secularism that the state is neutral with regards religion using neither coercion or favour on citizens to one belief or another. The conscience of the believer and infidel is safeguarded equally. Sadly an article in the National Catholic Register mixes them up, accusing secularism of adding to the fiscal cliff, confuses the two. They mean atheism and in particular non belief in heaven and hell stopping us being virtuous.
Economics without God
Economics does not lend itself to an atheistic philosophy, because political economy is not really into those questions. Marx tackles religion from a philosophical context, and for him economic relationships underpin the social order of any given system in his political economy, theocratic or capitalist. Critical examination of such things matter for him because: “The criticism of heaven turns into the criticism of earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.” (Marx)
A moral economic philosophy that may almost sound appealing to atheists is Buddhist Economics by Schumacher. That uses Right Livelihood, one of the eight parts of the noble path, to suggest that economic development needs to also address moral development – something which traditional economics does not model. The idea here, at a basic level, is not simply generating happiness. It is reducing suffering for both labour, producer and consumer. That for Schumacher is the basis of his thinking in using Buddhist philosophy to maximise the traditional economic maxim of optimising well-being.
That does not require the idea of an after life because Schumacher is using the here and now of a life. With no deity to worship or please Buddhism can be said to be atheistic. However, we cannot get away that the major suffering idea in Buddhism being samsara – the cycle of death and rebirth. The goal is to, by such things as right livelihood, end this cycle, possibly taking many future lives to achieve. As written in Why I Am Not A Buddhist, atheists could reject such ideas as being unverifiable on an empirical level – the same reason for rejecting god. The point is Schumacher in his thesis is not using thoughts of an after life in how we should behave with every day economic activity. Rather he is using philosophical ideas for making very real everyday decisions concerning our own welfare.
For the writer at the National Catholic Register, such thinking that ignores an after life explains why the fiscal cliff ever emerged on the horizon:
To boil it down, the moral world of Christianity was prefaced on the existence of the soul and a hierarchy of its virtues. In this moral scheme, avarice (aka greed) was a vice, and so the inordinate desire for worldly wealth was a character defect that ruined one’s soul (and hence damaged one’s chances for bliss in the next life).
However, secularism, in rejecting Christianity, left us with no heaven to hope for or hell to fear. One of the effects was the dilution and then dismissal of the need for virtue. The notion arose among early “capitalists” that passionately pursuing one’s own material self-interest actually resulted, as a happy side effect, in producing moral social order and even something like virtue in the individual. In buying and selling, they reasoned one must be honest or risk losing customers; one must be just in one’s transactions for the same reason; one must be industrious and prudent or one’s business would fail.
But as we became more secular, things became more crass. Some began to argue that a vice, greed, was actually good, because the desire for wealth — especially if it is inordinate and all-consuming — will produce more wealth for oneself and others and spread technological, medicinal and practical benefits that enhance everyone’s life.
In summery the desire to spend more than was coming in, and creating a social welfare state like Europe, is to be blamed on us abandoning the notion that at least God is watching and keeping score. Though by spending more on the less advantaged via social welfare receipts may be considered virtuous by some, especially Jesus. Also, when it mentions USA government expenditure being similar to the European level it crucially misses out military spending – account for that and Europe is significantly higher. No mention of “those who live by the sword die by the sword” could mean the cost of holding said sword for so long. Which the USA as number one military spender is equal to the same expenditure as the next 20 odd countries combined.
Why do I sell myself?
Adam Smith observed:
“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”
However that advocate of free markets also had this to say:
“How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys is not so much the utility, as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote it. All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniences. They contrive new pockets, unknown in the clothes of other people, in order to carry a greater number. They walk about loaded with a multitude of baubles, in weight and sometimes in value not inferior to an ordinary Jew’s-box, some of which may sometimes be of some little use, but all of which might at all times be very well spared, and of which the whole utility is certainly not worth the fatigue of bearing the burden.”
“Theory of Moral Sentiments” is a primer if you ever believe free market promoting economists by nature lack feeling, or empathy. The economy supplies our wants and needs without appealing to anyone’s better angels. At a restaurant you do not have to convince the waiter you are a good person before he takes your order. The chef feeds you because ultimately they need to feed themselves. How we chose an occupation is a worthwhile question to explore from a material and psychological point of view.
The article essentially is making as it’s straw-man Gekko from Wall Street. Remember that prior to his “Greed is good” speech he talks about a time when executives were accountable to the stockholder for the running of the business – and that times have changed. He suggests that his ability to liquidate as an asset stripper is the only sanction to make them run a business properly. In a free market economy, to ensure they focus on making real profits for their share holders or else:
The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.
Rather than an economic regulator in the sky being taken more seriously in compliance meetings, we could argue that real and immediate sanctions in the career of chairs and executives of boards would be productive. That means real accountability to stockholders, transparency in the statistics of the company, and effective regulation and enforcement of rules including sanctions that will modify behaviour, or at least recuperate any loss and more then punish any reward for breaking.
As such game theory, moral hazard, and other concepts used in economics would be a better tool than trying to make people believe there is treasure in heaven rather than asking about stock options. Virtue is something we all have an interest in promoting without thinking we need heaven and hell to make people moral. We need something more palpable.
How we deal with knaves is the thing in the here and now, as well as making our own character not all about the materialistic, but about living a good life that makes us happy.
The picture comes from a thoughtful blog on thinking about economists of the past here
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog
Taken from here, came across on the web but they seemed like very sensible questions to ask:
Here are ten questions to draw from or to modify in your own words.
1. Leaders of the religious right often say that America is a “Christian Nation.” Do you agree with this statement?
2. Do you think houses of worship should be allowed to endorse political candidates and retain their tax exempt status?
3. Do you think public schools should sponsor school prayer or, as a parent, should this choice be left to me?
4. Would you support a law that mandates teaching creationism in my child’s public school science classes?
5. Do you think my pharmacist should be allowed to deny me doctor-prescribed medications based on his or her religious beliefs?
6. Will you respect the rights of those in our diverse communities of faith who deem same-gender marriage to be consistent with their religious creed?
7. Should “faith-based” charities that receive public funds be allowed to discriminate against employees or applicants based on religious beliefs?
8. Do you think one’s right to disbelieve in God is protected by the same laws that protect someone else’s right to believe?
9. Do you think everyone’s religious freedom needs to be protected by what Thomas Jefferson called “a wall of separation” between church and state?
10. What should guide our policies on public health and medical research: science or religion?
All booked in at the Minneapolis Marriott® City Center hotel that the conference is at (staying Wednesday 19th till Monday 26th) more on the conference can be found here. The preferential rate on stays there are going fast so be quick to get them.
Mind you to save money I have a plan that involves leaving at midnight arriving at Gatwick 3:30am for an 11:30 am flight. Nine hour fly time and thanks to the five hour time difference be there for the mid afternoon. The plan is to sleep on the plane.
Some of the speakers I met at the AAI conference last year in Washington DC (well Virgina but hey, the Crystal City gets that a lot). But for me the key thing is meeting up and networking with like minded people and the excitement of being an Englishman abroad.
Will be on the RDFRS stall so please if you are coming by say hi and stop for a chat. If anyone knows any good things to do in Minneapolis do please suggest them – especially sightseeing. For example at AAI we did the walk from the Jefferson Memorial to the White House on the last day. The Minneapolis equivalent would be good. Only, if I am honest, until I Google I am very ignorant about the area. Except that everyone tells me it will be cold (unlike Cornwall where on the beach I read Dennett).
So please say if you are attending and drop by and say hi.
Early days in the nominations of Presidential candidates. To an outsider it looks like a very drawn out contest, and even then the outcome of people voting reflects the delegates that then vote for the candidates to stand – in short it is not directly for the candidate. So on the one front you have a caucus democracy with a cup of coffee but it is not direct democracy (then again same in the UK that our MPs choose the leader to support – indirectly through this we choose the PM). However the end would give a legitimacy to the eventual candidate chosen, and tested.
Going to sleep in the UK, where by 3 am it seemed that McCain had won and Clinton would keep a slender lead over Obama I had a dream – my first on USA politics. I think it was the unity idea that most candidates mention that there are no red and blue states but these United States. I am a sucker for the vision thing and prose, though I retain my skepticism – it seems an idea that motivates but not a reflection of what really is going on in everyday life. The United States, with no current or vice President standing for the first time in over a generation, the nation seems divided and the race in both camps wide open.
What would unity really mean in a political sense? Well Bush being out of the White House seems the key even for the Republicans and the shadow of Iraq. The candidates would need the gravitas to extend partisan lines but the vision to get things done in a way differently from the normal in Washington where lobby groups reign supreme. Money talks above the concerns of citizens. I cannot see that changing except that the people at the top want to take on the system – that will be politically risky, though necessary if the candidates mean what they say. Can you really change the status quo when as President you are on top?
So to explain my dream – McCain becomes President and Obama is his Vice President. That would never happen, I am sure but the point of my dream was that together they took on the lobby groups using their respective bases of support. Health care reform happened and the partisan bitterness changed to energy happening for reform. Perhaps what matters is whether a new spirit of bipartisanship could occur after the Presidential election. Bush said he would and quickly failed to live up to that – and yet I see no other way that the changes needed in the political system to give government back to the people can happen.
Then again what does an outsider have to say about the politics of Washington? In the global village it really matters who is elected. Even the candidates talk of a global responsibility that the President has in the role (though giving BBC reporters short shrift to reach actual voters in their busy schedules which has been funny to watch!). It matters that the President is on top of the issues and able to do what must be done. Lives of millions are in the hands of the President in what he decides to do, and it extends beyond the coast line of the United States.
You may say I am a dreamer. Perhaps the motivation in New Hampshire for voting (double the turnout last time) is not a renewed feeling of civic responsibility but a motivated partisanship that could be bitter after the election. But I know what would be the best outcome – a civic pride body politic working together to tackle the issues that affect the USA and the World, being honest in disagreement but not shying away from what must be done.
I hope I am not the only one.
In windy, cold and wet Leicestershire I took refuge from the elements that whip across this island in the local supermarket Tesco. There I bought Michale Moore’s documentary Sicko describing health care in the USA and an overview of other health systems in the world.
The entrenched interests in the USA system seem at odds with the welfare of the citizens. It seems the pursuit of happiness is not seen as necessitating universal health care; not even the life part to make it a constitutional issue. The documentary itself concentrates on those that do have health insurance but are virtually broke due to deductibles or refused treatment for excuses designed to reduce costs to the insurance companies.
The volunteer firefighters that helped in the aftermath of 9/11 refused help towards their health costs because they were not employed by the state was one that made me feel particularly angry. The idea that the state can ask you to risk your life or health but not be there to pick up the pieces after you have done your duty is a failure of responsibility – one that the richest nation on earth neglects to it’s shame.
When I went to USA I very nearly forgot health insurance cover – last thing I got before flying out. Moore has relatives in Canada that mention they would not travel across the border, even for a day, without travel health care insurance. When you hear how the costs can spiral for the simplest of things it is no wonder.
The concept of moral hazard is useful here - give people an incentive they will do things you may not have envisaged or wanted. In this a young US citizen would travel to Canada, pretend to be the live in partner of her Canadian friend to get access to drugs and care she needed.
I know that Hilary Clinton was thwarted in her attempts at reforming the health care system. Now her Senatorial funds were greatly boasted by Health insurance funds. I have no idea if Obama really can deliver a universal health care system. But it is possible – the NHS was created in 1948 with opposition from the medical establishment. Yet now no political party would scrap it. Admittedly though it is slowly withering away – we now pay for opticians and dental work (though the NHS can subsidise that substantially) – the idea that in need you have medical attention free at the point of delivery is a universal political principle that covers the spectrum like the NHS does over the land.
Perhaps the most moving part of the film was in Cuba when some of those interviewed by Moore were seen by Doctors. In particular was the lady who needed an inhaler that cost $120, and needed two or three a month. In Cuba at a pharmacy that cost 5 cents. The idea of health tourism is not a new one.
Yet Michael Moore has a way of making the stories moving and yet injecting humour that does not distract from the point he is trying to make. In particular the donation he gave to pay a website critic’s wife’s health bill so he did not have to abandon his site that vilifies Moore was for me a reminder that revenge is a dish best served cold.
Will the next US President take on the vested interests, weather the storm, due to the principle of universal health care? Well that may be a lot harder than my bicycle ride back from Tesco to home – but maybe the US election cycle can give the momentum necessary for a health care system that really delivers life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to it’s citizens.