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Confusion, Illusion, and Common Sense
Mark A. Goldman                                                                     Date: 11/26/08

Some people confuse economic theory with economic reality and all too often those people are economists, politicians, and others who have a direct impact on government policy.. and then inevitably many of us as well.  A little common sense could go a long way to clear up the confusion.

Economic theories are theoretical constructs that make assumptions about how people think and behave with respect to money and commerce. According to theory, capitalism produces real wealth and not just for some, but for all. Economists and politicians often forget to ask if these theoretical constructs offer an accurate description of how people really behave in the society we live in.

For example, in theory, capitalism assumes that businesses and consumers always act in their own best economic interest; that all participants in an economy have equal access to necessary and relevant information for rational decision making; and that selfish economic behavior will maximize not only the well being of individual participants in an economy, but also society as a whole without anyone consciously intending that it do so.

Let me suggest to you, that in our culture, none of these assumptions are true.

We are constantly misinformed—being fed disinformation by corporate media, our own government, religious institutions and others. We do not really consume what we would want or need if left to our own devices.  Instead we are constantly bombarded with—and mesmerized by—advertising, propaganda, and promotion that’s designed to make us want what is not in our best interest to have, but what is in the interest of those who stand to profit greatly by the products, services, or ideas they want to sell.

That is why nearly all the cars, buses, and rail operating in America today run on fossil fuel rather than electric power; why public transportation in America is not world class; why we are addicted to war; why every citizen does not have free or affordable healthcare, why so much of the food we eat is not good for us, and why so many people live one illness or two paychecks away from bankruptcy, homelessness, hunger, and despair.

Similarly, we are easily manipulated during elections to focus on irrelevancies rather than on substantive issues. We are so confused by our illusions, most of which are propagated by the intellectually dishonest arguments of politicians and corporations, that we end up supporting the very people who demonstrably lack the vision, courage, desire, or integrity to pursue what is best for us as individuals, as a nation, or for the world as our extended community. We refuse to hold our leaders accountable for making sure that, as a society, we make continual progress in the advancement of the human condition in all its aspects. Why shouldn't we be able to expect this from our leaders when every day we have the opportunity to advance our knowledge, wisdom, and skill at managing our affairs?

We allow corporations to spend vast sums of money to block or skew government regulation in order that they might externalize costs and privatize profits even when the long term consequence of doing so destroys our environment, our health, and our happiness… and we allow them to do this even when we know the destruction they promote might be irreversible. Economic theory does not postulate that this is how rational people will behave.

While decision makers have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of constituents, all too often they pursue their own self interest instead. Adding to what I said earlier, political theory does not postulate that this is how elected officials will behave.

Economic and political theory do not assume that people will be dishonest or that government processes will be opaque, deceptive, and fraudulent, nor does it predict what effect the lack of integrity in government and commerce will have on our collective psyche or on the planet.

The point is, economic or politic theory is not relevant when it applies to a culture that promotes dishonesty, irresponsibility, and disinformation. What I am suggesting here is that it is really our culture that is sick, not the economy; our economic tribulations are symptomatic of a society that is drifting in unconsciousness; losing its ability and desire for self-examination, reflection, and self-improvement.

Policy makers, people who populate corporate media, and ordinary citizens seem oblivious to the fact that our problems are kept in place by systemic dishonesty. We all think our personal, economic, and social problems are unpredictable, fortuitous, or naturally occurring cyclical events. We are quite sure, of course, that we are not in any way to blame.

All too often we hear media interviewers ask policy wonks what kinds of strategies or policies we should put in place to correct our struggling economy or foreign policy blunders when, in fact, changing strategies or policies will not get at the heart of the matter. 

It is truly foolish to expect that self-serving officials will ever solve the problems that they themselves create and purposely keep in place for their own purposes. And in our culture, once self-serving officials get elected to office they tend to remain there for as long as they want to stay. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part, this is now the rule.  And it's not an accident.

The central issue is this: to solve critical systemic societal problems requires a certain level of intellectual integrity from every citizen, and yet intellectual integrity is demeaned and discouraged in a culture that has no respect for it.  It is cynical to think that you can make things work by advancing the art of advertising, promotion, deception, and pretense...  without any regard for substance.  Things work when you approach life with personal integrity and bring that integrity to everything you do. It's called being responsible.  Governments and institutions cannot do this. Only individual human beings, each making a personal commitment to him or herself, can do this.

We go through the motions anyway. But in the end we still keep in place the same political “leaders” and their systemically flawed political arrangements where our problems incubate and flourish. Even though it’s clear that we need to replace these people and the systems they created... with something that is inherently more honest, transparent, and responsible... we apparently have no intention of doing so. We don’t even talk about it. The topic is taboo.

The pervasive corruption that now pervades government stands in the way of any substantive change we might postulate. And the answer is not to do away with government.  What we need is a government that works.  And yet an illiterate, undereducated, and misinformed electorate is not likely to choose the kind of leaders, or pursue the kinds of strategies, that will help us fulfill our potential... at least not (apparently) until so much pain is experienced by so many of us that we will finally have no choice but to look for a new paradigm on which to base and achieve our aspirations.

I am in no way suggesting that what we need is a managed economy. I am suggesting that what we need is to better prepare ourselves intellectually to accept the challenges and responsibilities of citizenship.  

Notice that (during the last eight years particularly) the Bill of Rights and other tenets of our Constitution have all but been destroyed (or at least systematically betrayed) by the very people who swore an oath to preserve and protect them.  And this includes Article 6 Section 2 of the Constitution which incorporates international law into our own, and certifies it to be as supreme as what we call our own domestic rule of law.   That's what the Constitution says the treaties we've signed and commitments we made are.  How many of our citizens even know this?  How many care?  

Read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions, and other documents we've signed; compare them with our foreign policy or even our domestic policies, and see if you can reconcile our country's behavior with those basic principles of justice that the United States once championed, helped bring into being, and promised to honor. Without universal respect for the rule of law, or an intention to honor our word as a sacred trust, we have no country worthy of its name... nor any confidence that our country stands for anything at all... let alone justice.

Yet these topics are hardly up for discussion. Instead, we are now too worried about the loss of our economic security to think about the loss of our own political rights and freedoms let alone anyone else's. We don’t realize that our failure to hold elected officials accountable is why we have now lost both our economic and political security. In shirking our responsibilities, we abdicated our collective intelligence and sovereign power, handing them over to people who are clearly untrustworthy. Even after they betrayed us, we voted most of them back into office as soon as we got the chance.

Theoretically, America is still a constitutional democracy, but are we really? We are a people who are not even conscious of what we’ve lost… how ironic is it that we don't even recognize that WE THE PEOPLE are the government we lost.  How will we get our country and our honor back?

We cannot solve real problems with theoretical solutions to deeply held illusions. Until we as individuals come to realize and take responsibility for knowing the difference between a theoretical economy and the economy we have, or the difference between a real democracy and an illusion we adhere to— we, and those we love, will continue to be stalked like prey by those who like things just the way they are.  

If we continue to accept the state of consciousness as it is, most of us, and the rest of humanity, will face a predictable future of uncertainty, fear, hunger, and want. 


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