An Almost White One!
When I speak of the black ones I advise paying attention to their subtle methods, and discerning how patiently they creep to the goal and how they choose shoulders behind which to screen themselves. You do not see the black ones, but the grey ones and almost white ones. However, this telegraph requires great attention. Hierarchy, 284
The other day, I came across a piece in the New York Times opinion pages, “Capitalism and the Dalai Lama” by a person named Arthur C. Brooks. The article had a kind of wonky frequency to it. I had a quick look into who Mr. Brooks is. Well, turns out he is the president of The American Enterprise Institute. His co-workers are individuals like John bolton, Newt Gingrich, Paul Wolfowitz, Michael Novak, Richard Perle.
Mr. Brooks article is rather disjointed and confusing. He seems to want to understand The D.L.’s thinking, but at the same time he is trying to justify what he calls “Free Enterprise”.
For example, Mr. Brooks writes that The D.L. “insisted that while free enterprise could be a blessing, it was not guaranteed to be so. Markets are instrumental, not intrinsic, for human flourishing. As with any tool, wielding capitalism for good requires deep moral awareness. Only activities motivated by a concern for others’ well-being, he [the D.L.] declared, could be truly ‘constructive.’”
This bit of, well, logic or wisdom is pretty much the last thing in which the vast majority of corporations worldwide are interested. Can you imagine what the result for an IPO in which the the corporate Business Plan listed a concern for right sharing or the well-being of others as the Corporate Goal?
Mr. Brooks goes on. “Tibetan Buddhists actually count wealth among the four factors in a happy life, along with worldly satisfaction, spirituality and enlightenment. Money per se is not evil.”—I wonder if the Dalia Lama is referring to “money” when he speaks of wealth?—“For the Dalai Lama, the key question is whether “we utilize our favorable circumstances, such as our good health or wealth, in positive ways, in helping others.” Mr. Brooks continues, “There is much for Americans to absorb here. Advocates of free enterprise must remember that the system’s moral core is neither profits nor efficiency. It is creating opportunity for individuals who need it the most.”
This is the kind of sophistry and double talk that allows the many of the super wealthy to see themselves as “Job Providers”, and along with “supporting the arts” and other such charitable enterprises provides a “moral cover” for their basically separative sense of privilege and the right of ownership. I am quite sure that the vast majority of CEOs and Corporate Board Members—who tend to be the same individuals and who, by the way, comprise an infinitesimal fraction of the present human population—would all resoundingly claim, with righteous indignation, that helping others in positive ways and creating opportunity for individuals who need it is exactly what their corporations are doing.
In his citation of a paper entitled “Parametric estimations of the world distribution of income Xavier Sala-i-Martin, Maxim Pinkovskiy, 22 January 2010”, Mr. Brooks does exactly that. “Historically, free enterprise has done this (creating opportunity for individuals who need it the most) to astonishing effect. In a remarkable paper, Maxim Pinkovskiy of M.I.T. and Xavier Sala-i-Martin of Columbia University calculate that the fraction of the world’s population living on a dollar a day — after adjusting for inflation — plummeted by 80 percent between 1970 and 2006. This is history’s greatest anti poverty achievement.” Parametric estimations of the world distribution of income
Xavier Sala-i-Martin, Maxim Pinkovskiy, 22 January 2010
Well that all sounds great, like the D.L.s’ simple message of compassion, “a happy life for all” is really making an impact here. However, looking at the “remarkable paper” cited by Mr. Brooks revealed this astonishing bit of information, which Mr. Brooks neglected to include in his quot. “World poverty is falling. This column presents new estimates of the world’s income distribution and suggests that world poverty is disappearing faster than previously thought. From 1970 to 2006, poverty fell by 86% in South Asia, 73% in Latin America, 39% in the Middle East, and 20% in Africa. Barring a catastrophe, there will never be more than a billion people in poverty in the future history of the world.”
This highly dubious manipulation of numbers presenting the marvelous display of our deep moral awareness does not indicate the number of people presently living in poverty, but it offers the comforting projection that says it is really great that, barring a catastrophe, sometime in the future only 1,000,000,000, or so children, women, and men will be living the happy life of poverty.
Today, right now, according to numerous reports by groups around the world who collect and publish such data like the Statistic Brain and One.org, nearly 1/2 of the world’s population, more than 3 billion people, live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty. That is less than $1.25 a day. In the past 35 years income levels for all sectors of the world population with the exception of the top 10% or so have dropped significantly.
Mr. Brooks dismisses discussions about fair sharing as “dubious”, and goes on to make several high sounding suggestions for solutions: a reliable safety net for the poor, attacking cronyism that protects the well-connected, lifting poor children out of ineffective schools. He ends his piece, by placing the blame for and responsibility for fixing the problems squarely on “Washington”, which is code for the Government. “In other words”, Mr. Brooks says, “Washington needs to be more like the Dalai Lama. Without abandoning principles, we need practical policies based on moral empathy. Tackling these issues may offend entrenched interests, but this is immaterial. It must be done. And temporary political discomfort pales in comparison with the suffering that vulnerable people bear every day.
The above are instructions for the ineffective politicians in Washington. Not a word about the Corporations who exercise enormous self centered control over what does and does not happen in Washington and who have prevented or watered down even the most modest effort to alleviate suffering among the people. These individuals are not the least bit interested in personal discomfort of any kind at any level and will have none of it.
If this is what free enterprise means, Mr. Brooks, NO THANKS. We prefer Democracy, government of for and by the People. We have had your version of “free enterprise”. Been there for millenniums. Since it fails to understand the basic concepts of Democracy, The Common Good and the General Welfare, Happiness for All its applications are simply impractical. In other words, they lack what The D.L. would call HEART, or a true moral core without which "practically" is im[ossible. Solutions which are not heart generated do not work.
We need equality, right sharing, and real freedom for all. This, I take it , what the D.L . meant when he said truly "constructive". 1,000,000,000 below the poverty line is unacceptable in a Happy World.