Economics and Democracy: Everyone is to blame
When Democracy was created by Solon 2500 years ago in Greece, its shortcomings were readily apparent.
When Democracy was created by Solon 2500 years ago in Greece, its shortcomings were readily apparent. Anacharsis said that it was a system where ‘the wise speak and the fools decide.’ He was obviously an optimist. Most elections seem to involve many fools speaking, and the lesser of two evils are fools choosing the lesser fool.
Anacharsis also described the law as a spiderweb: ‘it captures only the weak, and the strong break right through.’ There is certainly a lot of evidence in that regard. We have long lived in a divided nation, with one set of laws for the weak, and another set for the strong. The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal, and that our rights are inalienable, but the practice of slavery, prejudice and special privileges endures. We even describe people as illegal, when human rights have no borders. We slip easily into the fascism we readily criticize. The Berlin Wall is down, but Israel and America each have one.
Creating a society of equals is hard work, and requires not only personal enlightenment, which is oftentimes lacking, but transparent and systemic procedures. Double-standards are easy to institutionalize, since a majority of fools are all that is required and easily had. Fear always masquerades as commonsense. The first law-makers of America were lawbreakers and slavemasters. Their contradictions carry forward to today. The King was a convenient scapegoat. We argue more and are taxed more today than we were 230 years ago. From the frying pan into the fire, much as Anacharsis intimated.
The American founders refused the Constitution of England, which had all the same ‘checks and balances’ that Solon promised two millennia ago. Democracy did not work in Ancient Greece, and it is not working today. The question we need to ask is ‘Why?’
Solon offered a political solution to an economic problem. In Greece there were three distinct economic groups: the fisherman who worked the ocean, the farmers who worked the plains, and the ranchers who worked animals in the highlands. Their problem was how to trade amongst themselves and with others outside of their nation. The challenge then, as today, was economic volatility and inflation. A system of ‘buy low-sell high’ automatically puts everyone in an adversarial position. Only a fool could describe this competition as ‘healthy.’ The wealth of a nation advances based only on its ability to cooperate peacefully and productively. Crunching numbers all day, whether actively like stockbrokers or passively as stock-owners, does not produce anything of value, except for the very inflation and volatility that one fears.
Solon claimed that political equality was the best first step in finding the elusive solution for economic equality. He could be right, but he could just as easily be wrong. Quality and quantity are like the two rails of a train; they travel side by side but never intersect. A quality society requires quality thinking and people acting righteously, not self-righteously. The greater part of wisdom is self-restraint, which is why the ten commandments are mostly about what not to do. As in ancient times, we reap what we sow.
The vast middle-class, long touted as the great success of America and the victim of an economic squeeze, must choose between what is best for all men, and what is best for themselves. JFK and Reagan both captured the difference succinctly. JFK said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Reagan, in contrast, asked: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago.” Egalitarianism and selfishness cannot co-exist.
When the stock market crashes, and people bemoan their losses, they seem to have never learned that unearned income requires an unpaid laborer. All profit is someone else’s expense. To take 'royalties' is to reap where you did not sow. The essence of the complaint against monarchy was that it was exploitive. To own stocks or bonds is to own chattel. Wall Street is nothing more than an exploitive slave system by proxy. Dogs fighting dogs are too self-absorbed to see the broader context: There are plenty of bones for all, but the numbers we write down are absurd, creating scarcity where there is none.
Just as invading rice paddies in Vietnam was alleged to make sense, we dogmatically defend a system of numerical alchemy with a faith like religion. Our intellectual slavery is even more absurd than traditional slavery, since the middle-class slave-masters are also their own victims. Public corporations need to be banished, but no law needs to be passed. Simply divest. Divest and simplify. If the unions divested from Wall Street, then America could be made anew in a fortnight. Welcome to democracy. When no one is to blame, everyone is to blame.