Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Redistributing Wealth

Have you ever noticed that those who object most strenuously to the notion of redistribution of wealth are those who benefit from the status quo? Their hostility is espoused mostly from the pedestal of White Privilege, from offices on Wall Street, and it echoes through the halls of private mansions and country clubs. The ultimate source of their anger is, of course, guilt. They know they got where they are because of the toil of others. They are reaping their profits from uneducated consumers who fall for marketing campaigns. Their expenses are for lobbyists in Congress, if they have not paid outright for a Senator or Representative. Ironically, they have engineered a redistribution of wealth to themselves, so the idea of the reverse is repugnant.

We have had a redistribution of wealth for centuries. Slavery. The gender wage gap. Mass incarceration of minorities. Minimum wage. Credit that leads to bankruptcy. Failure to provide affordable healthcare and housing. Food deserts. Gerrymandering. Voter suppression. Government subsidies to corporations. Industry bailouts. Offshore banking. Tax breaks on investments. You don't think any of this has had an impact on who becomes wealthy? Really?

For our part as laborers and consumers, we yearn for financial freedom, still clinging to the belief that a bright future is all up to us as individuals, still pursuing the white picket fence and two-car garage. Society, we are told, gives you the freedom to do whatever it takes to get wherever you want to go. Yes, there are still some ways to attain wealth from the ground up, if you choose the "right" career, take advantage of existing financial structures for which it helps to be already wealthy....Where is the freedom in that?

If you do not believe we need measures in place to level the financial playing field, then you are either a diehard capitalist who cares not one whit about anybody but themselves, or you have bought into the fictitious idea that if you merely work hard you can still amass great wealth by climbing the ladder of success. Hogwash. We no longer have a Middle Class. We have not had that for quite some time. What we have is a Debt Class masquerading as the Middle Class. It is an illusion based on credit and other forms of borrowing. Our "portfolio" is a job, check cashing establishments, and the lottery. Ok, maybe two jobs or even three.

The ultimate question, of course, is why are we aspiring to personal material wealth in the first place. Who does that benefit except you, your family if you have one, and your heirs if you have children? Do you really want that small a sphere of influence? Dream bigger. Dream beyond money. Cultivate the currency of generosity instead of selfishness.

The solution to our enormous prosperity gap must come from both ends. Yes, to obliterate poverty the very wealthy must give up a substantial portion of their wealth. The remainder of the financial spectrum must cease to pursue the amassing personal material wealth as a goal. The new American Dream needs to be one of inclusion, with goals beyond ourselves such as renewable energy, preservation of biodiversity, acceptance (not mere tolerance) of alternative lifestyles, the abolishment of hate speech, enactment of affordable healthcare and housing, a return to small scale agriculture, and other communal and social endeavors. These are the things we need to commit to, not to our financial planner's idea of personal financial security, as if there is such a thing. Self-reliance is just a fancy synonym for pride, and putting pride as a priority has never ended well.

You want something to aspire to? How about this. How about we aspire to be like people who have lost everything material. People who have been through tornadoes, or hurricanes, or earthquakes, or fires, or even stock market crashes, who come back even stronger after the devastation because they know what really matters is not status or wealth but character and love and all those things you cannot measure in economic terms. Let us be like those who have been wronged, been cheated on, been scammed, been victims of violent crime, who come out of that trauma and still manage to trust other human beings. Let's be like that: all heart, soul, and empathy.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

You, topia

© Chelsea Leigh Stockton (Sherrie Duris is subject)

Who are you at your core? What would you be if you strip away all the material things that adorn you, lifestyle, and make your image? What are you without your occupation? How do we make tangible the intangible qualities that are what make us truly unique? We are all works in progress, aspiring to our own nirvana of self-actualization. Are you there yet?

We are forever caught between the rock of our own individualism and the hard place of societal expectations. Youth mostly lean toward living up to expectations (though they will profess otherwise) while the older we get the more we yearn to break free of the confinements of conventionality. Collectively, though, we tend to want to keep up appearances, and that is a costly lifestyle both financially and in terms of our mental and physical health. It takes a toll to pretend.

Our capitalist economy, maybe any form of economy, dictates that we be a collection of products first and foremost. You must practice self-expression through clothes, cosmetics, commitment to fitness and food choices, and your taste in entertainment and extracurriculars. You set yourself apart by branding, or at least the brands you choose, because status is everything, and you do not ever want to be yesterday's news.

What are we to do then? Walk around naked? Let ourselves go? Give up? That would be unacceptable, and actually defeat the purpose of our existence anyway, but what we need to do is shift the center of our personal and collective universe away from....things.....and to what truly gives us fulfillment. The default setting on our health and happiness meter is probably family and experiences, not material wealth, not a career, not what we are constantly told by the marketplace of diets and clothing designers, drug companies and politicians.

The late Dr. Leo Buscaglia was fond of saying the we are "human doings" because we are so obsessed with proving we are worthy of existence through tangible deeds, contributing to society in a literally visible way, that we have lost track of our true essence, the fact that we matter anyway, independent of our works. Indeed, there are few if any careers that enjoy a completely positive image in our society. Some are too complicated, dismissed as "rocket science" in conversation. Others are too simple and seen as unworthy of respect. Did you tip the wait staff at the restaurant with a generous gratuity? Do you greet the garbage collector or your postal delivery if you happen to see them? Wave at the public transit driver? I didn't think so.

We have to stop equating ourselves and each other with our jobs and our wardrobes and our bank accounts and our vehicles and every other measure of self-worth we have allowed society to calculate for us. We need to transcend "tolerance" and replace it with acceptance, free ourselves of labels and stereotypes. The marketplace is not going to stop categorizing us anytime soon, so best to just give it your middle digit.

Religion, too. Personally, I carry enough guilt to be a Catholic, and complain enough to be Jewish. Maybe that is why I am agnostic. See? There come those caricatures again, those easy-to-use ways of pigeon-holing people. We are so populous as a species, and put such a premium on convenience, that we accept our lazy ways of classifying people as the norm. We are diamonds, people, with multiple facets that will only glint in the light of patience in learning about ourselves and each other over time.

You-topia? You are already there, you just haven't realized it yet. You are still consumed by consumerism, restrained by beliefs that you cannot make a difference, that only your vote matters in your district, your ward, your precinct, and in the marketplace. You believe you are a means to an end for others, not for yourself and your family and friends, let alone other species. Rebel. Lead a personal mutiny against everything unimportant. Do not let the pressures of society lead to pent-up anger and hostility. Relax. Free your mind. When someone asks "what do you do?," tell them who you are instead. Remind them that you are a human being, already worthy, and so are they. Repeat. Daily.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

What Would a Truthful Campaign Advertisement Look Like?


Ready to throw a brick at your television yet over the latest wave of commercials in this election cycle? Me, too. They seem transparent enough, which may be why I find them so distasteful and deceiving. What would an honest ad look like, I wonder, and would it not be a refreshing alternative to the current disguising of agendas?

One of the more insidious advertising campaigns here in Colorado revolves around Initiative 97, where a grassroots public effort led to this measure making it onto the ballot. It would greatly restrict the places where oil and natural gas extraction could take place on non-federal lands. Most of the concern centers on potential health effects upon, and disaster risks borne by, those residential neighborhoods in rural and suburban districts. It would require a drilling location "setback" of 2,500 feet, or greater, from vulnerable parks, creeks, and homes. Scientific studies have suggested adverse public health consequences among populations close to drilling sites; and there have been documented explosions and fires associated with the industry that have resulted in worker deaths.

Naturally, the industry side is not in favor of further constraints, and of course they resort to fear-mongering to incentivize voters to reject Initiative 97. The recurring television ad features a stern-looking female spokesperson warning that the inevitable result of the passage of 97 will be greatly decreased revenue for public schools, fire and police, as well as lost jobs. Their argument is that the "setbacks" would "set back" the economy. This is the same rhetoric we have always heard, as if we believe the fossil fuel industry cares one whit about your safety, your education, or whether you are employed or not. The overwhelming number of these energy companies are not based in Colorado. Heck, some are not even based in this country, as Canadian corporations make ever-increasing inroads into natural resource extraction here in the U.S. and elsewhere. Most of the "jobs" they profess to be creating are open to applicants from all over, not reserved for Coloradans.

Well, maybe we are not as well educated as we would like to imagine, if anyone seriously believes the claims made in this advertisement. It must be a strategy that works, at least in part, or the advertising agencies would not adopt it, and the industry would not endorse it as their platform. That is perhaps the scariest part of it all: that anyone falls for it.

Ok, so what would a more honest approach be? Permit me a little artistic license if you will, but I think it would go something like this: An actual executive in the industry would present the following narrative.....

"We, as executive officers and shareholders, are addicted to the obscene profits we generate through fracking and other fossil fuel extraction methods. We greatly appreciate the generous federal, state, and local subsidies we receive in addition to those profits. We know we could make even more money were it not for those pesky environmental and public health regulations that we have to abide by. It is therefore necessary for us to make large expenditures on lobbyists and public advertising, even creating faux "green" organizations like Protect Colorado and Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED). Oh, we also have to constantly battle competition from renewable, vastly safer energy sources like solar and wind. That takes money, too. So, you see we need relaxed regulation, not increased regulation, if we are to make up the deficits we perceive in our bottom line. Your health, safety, employment status, and recreational opportunities are not our problem. You want heat, fuel, electricity, and telecommunications at low prices? That we can do for you, if you vote no on Initiative 97. Thank you, from here in the back of my limousine/inside my corner office suite/favorite golf course."

I am not holding my breath that any industry, candidate, or other interest group is going to stop lying and hiding their agenda any time soon, but I would find it more difficult to object to their posturing if it was put forth in an honest manner. Hey, what do they have to lose, right?