Our editorial today is sub-titled "Curbing yobbo-lizard brain behaviour at the top and bottom of society...". Its focus is three of the major challenges facing human society at the moment: climate change; the problem of global debt and the gfc; and the divergence in the incomes and affluence of the rich and the poor and the threat this poses to our future. We suggest a solution to the third problem but implementing it is up to you helping us stir up enough other people to do something about it.
Curbing yobbo-lizard brain behaviour at the top and bottom of society...
There is a story in today's news warning that we face the prospect of the Arctic summer ice completely melting during the northern summer within the next four years [LINK].
The prospect of global climate change on a scale that will cause sea levels to rise and massive dislocation on low lying parts of the planet is worrying enough.
In today's editorial commentary we argue that an equally great threat facing humanity is in the realms of the global economy. The conditions are ripe for massive, possibly catastrophic social change as a result of two major imbalances in the global economy as much as from any threat posed by climage change whether it is part of a long term natural cycle or whether it has been caused by the actions of humankind.
The two major economic imbalances that need urgent correction...
To our mind here at Catholica there are two major economic imbalances in society that need urgent correction:
Problem One: Reducing our total indebtedness...
On Sunday night across Australia a documentary was screened on ABC-2 that, in part, explored the problem the world faces because we have over-valued what we think we are collectively worth. If there was another planet of extra-terrestrials out there who might be willing to pay us what we think we are worth there might not be a problem. There is truth in the old adage that something is only worth what some other person is willing to pay for it!
One of the more interesting suggestions that attracted our attention in the documentary was the reference back to the ancient religious ideas of a debt moratorium. Every fifty years all debts in a society are cancelled and everyone in the society starts again. It was an idea much discussed during the Great Jubilee of Christianity in the Year 2000. The documentary provided good argument as to why it is increasingly difficult to "cancel debt" in the ways it was possible to do so in ancient religious societies: the basic reason being that much of today's debt has been privatised — too many individuals today are owed too much money and none of them are prepared to cancel it!
What we are presently watching in society, we argue here at Catholica, is that the people in the world who are presently owed all the debt — the rich and powerful — are endeavouring to shift it onto poorer countries and people in some game of high stakes poker so that it appears something other than a transfer of debt from the already rich to the poor. Eventually something has to give unless the world's political leaders can come up with a solution — or unless some new John Maynard Keynes-type figure emerges with a new economic formula that can solve the problem in ways other than fraud and what is effectively a form of stealing.
Standing in the way of effective political leadership is the observation recently made in an investigative piece in The Global Mail that many of our politicians are today "on the make" themselves. There seems to be some decline in society in the concept of "noblesse oblige" — another ancient and possibly religious notion that "those who benefit most in society have an obligation to give something back without expectation of payment and essentially paid for from the excess that Providence, or Lady Luck, has given them". In the past, it might be argued, there was a greater sense of "noblesse oblige" in the political classes in Western society but today that appears to be disappearing with many classified as "professional politicians" who are "in the business" for their own progress in society as much as for any sense of trying to create a better society. The sense of "noblesse oblige" was something evident on all sides of politics in the past — think of some of the great Labor leaders in the past (even if they came from humble beginnings one might argue a deep sense of "noblesse oblige" could also be detected in their behaviour. You might also think of great Democrat and Labor leaders in the UK or the United States who had a great sense of "noblesse oblige". "Noblesse Oblige" is often more associated with the wealthy — and you could detect that in some conservative politicians. One could argue, flowing out of the observations in the article in The Global Mail, that it is less evident today.
The Australian businessman and entrepreneur, Dick Smith, has been drawing attention both to the decline in a sense of "noblesse oblige" – he doesn't call it that but rather a reluctance of the wealthy to be philanthropic – and also the fallacy, also covered in the "Surviving Progress" documentary, that our world is capable of infinite growth. All corporate and business "progress" today is predicated on a concept of "growth". Unless a business can grow its markets it will stagnate and eventually fail. Smith points out that ultimately this is unsustainable: the world only has a finite number of people, and only a finite number of resources. Eventually an economic theory based on "endless growth" has to fail. We need to find a better solution — AND NOW!
Problem Two: Reducing yobbo behaviour at the top of the societal tree and the bottom...
It is arguable as to whether Problem One or Problem Two is the most urgent facing humanity. Historically since the first child emerged from the first womb the "lot" of the great majority of people has been struggle against the elements of nature. The vast majority of people have been poor, and very often exploited by those who have been blessed with access to wealth and power. It is only in relatively recent history that Western civilisation, in some of its territories, found a way to distribute the commonwealth of a nation in more equitable ways. This time of increasing standards of living for the poorest in society is generally measured from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. A characteristic of this recent period in human history has been a shrinking, or convergence, between the incomes and wealth of the wealthiest and most powerful people in society and the poorest and least powerful. As we have argued previously on Catholica, the great benefit this provided for humanity was not actually so much the better distribution of wealth itself but the better distribution of that more nebulous entity called "hope". Even the poorest in many countries today can at least dream that through access to universal education their children can aspire to a better life than their parents.
In recent decades this great "convergence" between the incomes and affluence of the rich compared to the poor has flipped. Society appears to be again in what has been the historical norm since the time of Adam and Eve — there is divergence again. The rich are getting richer and the poor are now getting poorer.
In recent days we have seen these riots around the world ostensibly triggered by an amateur YouTube video. There is good evidence though that it is essentially "manufactured indignation". The real cause is the increasing frustration many in society are beginning to feel that they are locked in a hopeless state of powerlessness. Remember the London Riots last year [See the Reuters story from early July at right. See also the comments posted by Judith earlier today on our Forum: LINK.]?
We would argue the problem is not only yobbo behaviour in the lower rungs of society. A massively bigger problem facing humanity is how to constrain yobbo behaviour in the upper echelons of modern society where corporate executives have begun paying themselves massive salaries and bonuses that truly have become obscene. [See the story from today's Sydney Morning Herald at right.]
Thankfully some restaint is beginning to emerge as other stories in the papers today illustrate but we suspect the restraint being exercised at the moment is still a massive way short of restoring the "convergence" in incomes and affluence that society needs if the present instability and cause for loss of hope in the lower rungs of society is to be restored.
It can be argued equally that solutions seeking to eliminate all income and affluence differentials in society are also utopian and eventually plummet a society into chaos and collapse. What society seeks is "a balance" or "a happy medium". Differentials in income are necessary to reward increased responsibility, reward for effort, and also reward for innovation and entrepreneurial skill. The absence of differentials can rob the lowest in society of hope just as much as the present sort of situation can do.
In recent times it seems some clever accountants, lawyers and politician types came up with a new theory that instead of people being rewarded for their labors on the basis of time and skill put into their endeavours, we should start rewarding those at the very top on the basis of their contribution to the "bottom line" of corporate profits. It sounds all very good in theory. In practice, we argue, it is going to leave society with a huge headache — and the rich in their gated communities and high level multi-million dollar apartments might end up with a few regrets when their yobbo mates from the bottom of the societal pile start rioting outside their fences or flying unmanned drones, assembled at the cost of a few hundred dollars, into their "out of reach, sky-high apartments".
The principal point we seek to make in this editorial is a simple one:
Our society needs to come up with a new economic formula as to how our various contributions to society are rewarded and remunerated. It has to incorporate some differential to reward effort, skill, creativity and entrepreneurship, but that differential has to be constrained so that it restores hope to all of humankind that they, or their children, can aspire to better standards of living through diligence, effort and intelligence.
If you agree with this editorial we urge you to email it to friends and start a discussion in your own family or community. Help us also to attract a wider readership to Catholica. You can use the social networking tools at the bottom of this editorial, or the email facility at the top, to quickly send this editorial to friends.
LINKS (to extra stories and external stories mentioned in this editorial):
Brian Coyne, Editor and Publisher, 18 Sep 2012
What are your thoughts on this commentary?