Thursday, April 26, 2018


I finished reading the Winter Edition of Lahpam's Quarterly a while back, book-marking a few spots in "States of Mind" for possible future posts.  One in particular was a back-of-the-edition essay written by Damion Searls called The Difficult Task of the Future.  The essay discussed the dilemma faced by Carl Jung after the publication of his seminal work"Psychology of the Unconscious". 

Jung was perplexed that, faced with the exact same evidence and/or same situations, his colleagues in the field of psychologyy often came to divergent conclusions.  For instance, Freud traced everything to the instinctual sex drive, Adler to the ego's lust for power.  Unlike most of us, Jung wanted to examine how he might be imposing his own psychology on his conclusions as he suspected his contemporaries did, and to investigate these disparities.

Self reflection at its apex, one might say.

As described by Searls, Jung began developing a theory in which he concluded that there were two types of people, introvert and extravert (Jung's spelling).  Further, that each type of person was prone to different mental illnesses. and, most importantly, it was fundamentally impossible for a person of one type to rise above the restrictions and characteristics of that type to fully understand someone of the other kind.

This theory, which eventually resulted in Jung's Psychological Types, published in 1921, set forth his beliefs and set off a firestorm of responses as he was essentially saying that there could be no objective truth in psychology (or any belief system for that matter) because all explanations are colored by the psychology of the person creating the conclusion. 

Still, Jung understood that even this schema, created by him, was influenced by his psychology so he set off to find an intellectual sparring partner to help him overcome his prejudices.  To accomplish this herculean task, herculean in that it required Jung to attempt to identify his own biases in light of his conclusions, while also openly listening to the justification of another's different conclusions while also acknowledging that that person also was effected by their own biases, Jung eventually found a psychiatrist named Hans Schmid.

From here, it is best that you do your own research, perhaps by reading Searls essay, or by reading publications by Jung and/or Schmid relating to their correspondences.

For me, Jung's watershed theory seems applicable considering the partisanship of so much of the public debate that is rending our country apart at the seams.  For those that support President Trump, any fact which paints him in a light less than brilliant is false, while for those who do not support the President any story which depicts him unfavorably must be true.  Examination of the details is irrelevant, when seen through the eyes of blind support or discontented fervor.

I am just as guilty, despite my efforts to explain to those who have the opposite opinion of our president.  I would like to think that my disagreements with President Trump are due to a vast difference in our opinions on climate change, income inequality, immigration, gender equality, fair treatment for the LGBTQ community, nuclear war, protection of our environment, compassion for other species, and the rule of law, among others, but it is not hard for me to believe any story depicting Trump as a poor human, let alone president, considering my biases against his differing opinions.  Recognizing them is certainly a start, but doesn't make it any easier not to succumb to condemnation without proof, and most assuredly will not allow me to listen to his speeches, or read his tweets, or agree with his nominations or policies without the filter of my biases against his opinions which seem so foreign, dangerous, and occasionally inhumane to me.

So, what to do.

Resist is an easy answer, and a correct one, as long as it is policies we resist, and not just anything that comes from his office.  There will be decisions made by the GOP and President Trump that are positive, and, like the blind squirrel who finds a nut sometimes, we need to be able to recognize those times, just as we hoped that the GOP would have given Obama more of a chance rather that being against everything he proposed. 

On the other side, patience is a virtue and I must acknowledge that the patience shown by President Trump's supporters is impressive.  But please, keep your ears and eyes open.  This much smoke, from the abuse of public funds by some of his cabinet members, to the obvious disdain for any news that does not toe the party line, to the twisted road of money that began with unreleased tax returns, might indicate some fires.  Don't let your eagerness for a wall or an anti-abortion law override your concern for the overall health of America.

And finally, let us all take a cue from Carl Jung and analyze our biases, admit that they effect our opinions, and keep an eye on those opinions that merely reflect preconceived perceptions and not actual facts.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

More on Income Inequality

In my last post, I discussed income inequality from a historical perspective, or more precisely, from the standpoint that income inequality has always existed, that there is a sweet spot somewhere between too much income in too few hands and the same income (equality of outcomes) for all, and that technology tends to enhance income inequality which does not bode well for the future and its imminent onslaught of medical, robotic, and information advances.

In this post I thought it might be interesting to review the concepts of too much, not enough, and just right as applied to income, spending and possessions.

One of the more insidious aspects of the GOP agenda as it relates to safety nets, is the dual premises that only lazy people need government help, and that "giving" money to the poor creates a dead end cycle of need addressed with hand outs rather than providing the means for self-sufficiency.   This tough love philosophy is reflected in the spate of mandatory drug testing and work requirements being appended to receiving everything from unemployment to disability to Medicare.  And, of course, it is an easy sell to the hardworking middle class who are presented with stories of welfare recipients eating surf and turf, or purchasing big screen TV's. 

Is there welfare fraud?  Are there people taking government checks who could and should be working?  Undoubtedly.   Depending on which source you believe, somewhere between 8-15% of government assistance is received in bad faith.  Is that percentage any higher than fraud that takes place in the private sector, among people with incomes far higher than those perpetrating fraud which takes our tax dollars?  From defense contractors overcharging for military funding to doctors and hospitals bilking Medicare and Medicaid to the everyday bribes and slush funds that are used to alter zoning regulations in the construction industry or OSHA regulations in the work place, fraud goes part and parcel with a money driven society. 

The fact that fraud exists at all levels of business, does not justify a poor person from taking welfare when they can work, or an unemployed person receiving unemployment monies while working under the table.  It is one thing to wish to reduce the tax money spent on fraudulent activities, but quite another to pretend that only poor people engage in it.  If we are to conclude that the vast amount of people of means are acquiring their wealth legally, then perhaps we should assign the same attribute to those who seek temporary assistance from the government.  If it is our assertion that rich people have, by and large attained their vast stores of money through immoral and illegal means, that in fact, all people are prone to do so, then shouldn't we be focused more on the billionaires than those receiving $6,000 a year in welfare payments?

But I digress.

When is too much, too much, and not enough actually not enough, and how much is just right?  And how are these amounts relative?

I have maintained that salaries should be capped, just as there should be minimums.  While I have never earned tens of millions of dollars in a year, I would like to believe I could struggle by if I earned only $20 million as opposed to $25 million.  Or even $5 million as opposed to $10 million.  Do those who innovate, create businesses from the ground up, imagine the impossible and then achieve it, do they deserve more for their efforts than most?  Surely, but 100 times more?  1000 times?  1 million times?
If we are to agree that all who work should earn a livable wage, even if that job require the most basic of skills, then it seems pretty easy to cap the salaries of those at the top to more evenly distribute to those in the middle and at the bottom.  Same expense, just less extremes at either end.  Would it not reduce the dependence of the working poor for government assistance, thereby reducing taxes for all?
If, accumulating wealth is the only goal, wealth without limits, then is seems pretty hypocritical for the wealthy to grumble about paying taxes when it is their greed that is partly causing the poor to need assistance in the first place. 

Still, there is some responsibility for those living with less income to spend more wisely.  The newest phone is not a necessity,  200+ cable channels are not required to live.  Some things can be fixed, not automatically replaced.   Does one really need 20 pairs of shoes, or 50 sports tee shirts, or 40 pairs of pants?   Is there something inherently wrong with leftovers, or packing a lunch?  Do we need to buy a 35 pack of bottled water every week, or can we drink from the tap, and if not, how about buying a gallon of water at a time and refilling a water bottle everyday? 

And, why isn't recycling, plastic, glass, cardboard, paper, metal, etc, not a daily habit?

There really is no need for poverty or malnutrition in a country where politicians have $10000 a plate fundraisers merely so they can run for public office.    No need for schools to run out of books or pens when we can manufacture and sell an fighter jet for $1 billion.  No need for lead leaching pipes to slowly poison poor inner city children when we have off shore oil rigs and fracking technology that can remove fossil fuels from the depths beneath our feet.

Income inequality has always existed, but it exists because we choose to tolerate it.  We lack the will to place the welfare of those who have less, were born with less, have been victims of unfortunate accidents, or were simply born the wrong gender, or in the wrong country, or to the wrong parents on an equal footing as our own.  We lack the vision to understand that any one of us, at any time, might find themselves in the exact same position as those we demonize as being lazy, or "takers" or without ambition.

Just right?  It will always be relative to the speaker and the listener.  Just right in Hong Kong is much different than just right in Ames, Iowa, or Sri Lanka, or Bolivia.  Just right might be that second house on the Jersey shore, or a yearly trip to Europe, or a roof that only leaks in really hard rains.  Just right might be pizza every other Friday night, or lobster salad at the club, or meat once a week. 

If just right is impossible to define then perhaps the best way to understand it is to imagine too little, then go from there.   

Too little means working as hard as you can and still not having enough to provide a better life for your children.  Too little is reading about CEO's, athletes, entertainers, hedge fund managers who make as much money in a month as you will make in your life.  Too little is contributing the best you can within a society that rates those efforts as inconsequential.  Too little is how too many people feel when their money runs out before the end of the month, even though it is through their efforts that so many of the rich have accumulated such wealth.

I have generally not been in favor of one issue voters.  People who decide that as long as the candidate agrees with them on one main point, everything else can be overlooked.  It is hard to imagine this philosophy being displayed more pointedly than the support that President Trump receives from the evangelical community.  But perhaps it is time for the American electorate to focus on one issue, income inequality, by voting for the least rich of the candidates, demanding that only public funds be used to pay for election campaigns, and by demanding that the vast resources of America be distributed in such a way that we can maintain our democracy, invest in our schools and infrastructure, eliminate the phrase working poor from our vocabulary, and, perhaps, even the more despicable phrase filthy rich, which connotes more the method of acquiring riches than the toilet habits of those described.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Income inequality

Interesting short article in the March Smithsonian called "The Archaeology of Wealth" which touches upon research which traces the inequality gap back into history, upwards of 11,000 years ago.  The basis of the research is to compare the size of dwellings in archaeological ruins, calculate the Gini coefficient for each, then chart the changes in wealth disparity over time. 

First, what is the Gini coefficient?  In layman's terms, it is a statistical instrument developed by an Italian statistician in the early 20th century and has been generally accepted as a way to measure income/wealth distribution of a nation's residents.  The range is 0 to 1 where 0 represents a perfect distribution of wealth, while a 1 rating indicates that all wealth lies in the hands of a small percentage of the population. 

Second, since this is a statistical representation of a subject, we should be cautious when we assign a value to the results, in that a value of 0 may not necessarily be the ideal, and conversely, a value of 1 may not necessarily be the worst possible result.  Societies perception of wealth and its distribution has changed, and will continue to change as humanity evolves. 

For instance, having all the wealth in the hands of a local land owner with all the surrounding population working a plot of land near their small dwelling, turning over excess harvests to the land owner, might seem extremely unfair to all but the family residing on the top of the hill.  But, perhaps, if the land owner respected the work of those living under his rule, made sure not to leave the peasants, so to speak, with less than they needed, provided a system of rewards so their might be varying degrees of livelihood for those toiling the fields, then such a system, while low on the Gini scale, might result in a positive life for most of those subject to its rules. 

Conversely, a society where everyone has the same wealth but which that wealth is dispersed based on existence as opposed to contribution, may attain a high Gini score but not necessarily result in a satisfying experience for its citizens.

That being said, there is probably a sweet spot on the scale which equates to a society which tolerates some wealth inequality to encourage innovation, ambition, and achievement but without subjecting a significant percentage of its citizens to poverty, lack of opportunity or overt discrimination.

So, what does the article reveal about the research?  There seems to be a trend in that technology accelerates the disparity.  Whether that technology be the attainment of fire, the ability to farm and develop the land, the domestication of animals, or the creation of hedge fund accounts, as technologies develop, wealth distribution becomes skewed.  This, of course, sends a mix signal concerning the rapid advancements that are occurring in medicine, communication, transportation, and robotics.  While we can clearly see that advancing technologies has improved the standards of living for all of Earth's inhabitants, whether it be as simple as my ability to sit at my desk in Perkasie, Pa, and have my thoughts available to anyone on the internet anywhere in the world, or as complex as the effect that  social media has had on documenting atrocities in previously closed societies, or bringing the viewpoints of previously unknown perspectives right to our phones, it is also true that those same advances have created a class of people with wealth greater than entire countries of tens of millions of people.

To me, the question is how do we monitor wealth in our country, our world, to achieve that sweet spot I mention above.  Capitalism provides the means to reward those who put to best use their skills.  It fosters innovation and creativity by providing the positive results, money, possessions, freedom, which encourage even more innovation.  But greed is its main enemy, and when greed infects capitalism through doctrines that advocate selfishness and tribalism, capitalism can quickly produce a society high on the Gini scale and low on values that separate us from our animal heredity. 

Nora and I have been watching the new HBO series called Here and Now.  One of the characters, a friend of the lead couple of the show, Audrey and Greg, is known to them from their college days of anti-establishment protests.  Now, while he is trying to help Audrey in her attempts to teach compassion and understanding at a time when conflict and vitriol seems the norm, it becomes known that his wealth has been partially attained through his use of third world labor that features harsh working conditions.  Audrey is aghast at this revelation, wondering how such an idealist (past) could justify engaging in such abuse of fellow humans to make his fortune while he has long ago convinced himself that the wages he pays are and improvement, and that through their (cheap) labor he is providing millions of Americans with cheaper products, and that if he didn't do it someone even less nice than he, would be doing it.  And, of course, he believes that funding Audrey's positive programs somehow washes him clean of his human abuse, and that the two dramatically different ways he treats people evens out in the end. 

Socialism for all its suppression of individual achievement, can also act as a conscious and regulator to capitalism that runs amok.   Whether it be through programs for the most needy, safety nets for the aged and infirmed, or temporary assistance when unforeseen events occur, a socialistic outlook that recognizes our duty to take care of each other, especially those that are unable to take care of themselves, is a necessary filter through which we must gauge our capitalistic tendencies. 

Images of income inequality when shown to us through the horrible examples of third world countries where the leaders live a lavish lifestyle while the children of the poor have bloated stomachs and a one if five chance of death before reaching school age, make us shake our heads, hug our kids and thank god we live in America.  But income inequality reflected through million dollar mega mansions, CEO salaries as compared to minimum wage employees, multi-national companies that pick and choose their home base to pay the least taxes, and public servants that spit in the face of the electorate by using their positions to gain even more wealth and resources while dehumanizing those who turn to the government, we the people, for some aid, we somehow accept as a way to make America better.

The Gini scale indicates that the United States has a poor grade in the area of income inequality.  We can do better, we must do better, before we find ourselves in a future filled with wonderful innovations that only a small percentage of Americans enjoy. 


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Green Energy in Texas

Among the articles in the April Smithsonian was an interesting piece about the most populous city in America that is fully powered by renewable energy sources.  While the city that previously held the title, Burlington, Vermont, home to Senator Bernie Sanders, is no surprise, the current leader is a city of 67,000 people located in Texas.  Yes, Texas.

The article details how the mayor of Georgetown, Texas, a lifelong Republican, did the math after becoming mayor in 2014, and within 2 years Georgetown was completely powered by wind and solar energy.  What is even more startling is that Georgetown isn't producing this energy on its own, but is purchasing the power from Adrian, Texas, 500 miles away, and Fort Stockton, Texas, 340 miles distant.

There are two keys to this situation,  First, Georgetown owns the utility company that serves the city, so it can negotiate and purchase from suppliers without interference from a mega utility or some such middleman.  Second, and even more vital, Texas has invested heavily in expanding its network of transmission lines, without which long distance deals to buy energy would not exist.

Of course, powering a much larger city with renewable energy sources only would be much more difficult and take more time, which is why cities like Atlanta has set its goal to be entirely powered in this fashion by 2035, San Francisco by 2030.  But the point is that it can be done, if we plan, begin investing in the infrastructure now, and continue to monitor progress.  Yes, it will take long term thinking, unlike Mayor Ross's two year plan, but will reap huge benefits in money savings, a cleaner environment, and a reduced entanglement with the areas of the world that provide most of our fossil fuels.   

And, oh yes, more jobs.

Because, as the article also details, investment in clean energy has surged in the last decade, topping $50 billion each of the last four, as has the number of employees working in the wind and solar industries.  As of 2016, there were about 50,000 employees in the coal industry, a little over 100,000 in the wind industry and over 250,000 in the solar industry. 

Lest you think that it is only blue states that are increasing their percentage of electricity derived from renewable fuels, as of 2016, Iowa was #1, followed by South Dakota, Kansas and Oklahoma with North Dakota, Minnesota and Nevada also in the top 10.  Andy, before you claim it can only be done by the less populated states, California is 5th and Texas 14th on the list.

To me, what it comes down to is the political will to "do the math", a paradigm shift that embraces the change to renewable energy sources rather than fighting it or claiming it is not possible, and, perhaps most important in these times of conflict rather than cooperation and the resurgence of tribal thinking that focuses on us vs them rather than we, the belief that we can harness nature without destroying it, reorganize our economy with minimal upset, and create policies that focus on results more so than the origin of the idea, individual, party or country.