Third Party & Independents Archives

June 09, 2005

Affluence Destroying America's Future?

We have become the most prosperous nation in the world. There is however, evidence pervading our society supporting the argument that this very prosperity is sowing the seeds of discontent, which could destroy the integrity of this unified nation of hope. The 20th century saw America exert the immense power of its one people, one nation, integrity toward victory in two world wars. It saw an historically unprecedented rise in prosperity for all Americans, and the rise of an unparalleled middle class whose prosperity began to look like heaven on earth in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.

The 20th century saw an uplifting of government toward noble ends like women's suffrage, destroying organized crime, putting human beings on another celestial body, and the most radical advances in medical science ever witnessed; eradicating epidemic diseases and prolonging average life expectancy for Americans by decades. The visible remnants of slavery were discarded; new American Indian laws permitted even them some meaure of prosperity with legalized gambling opening the doors to some of their people to realize opportunities, to dream, and work for fulfillment of those dreams previously denied them.

The last century also witnessed the establishment of a government-economic strategy that virtually fulfilled the dream of individual freedom and opportunity to pursue happiness for most Americans. The public educational system produced the best-educated populace in the world, and spawned innovation, and entrepreneurial activity not even rivaled by ancient great civilizations. Those hundred years spawned a consumer class fattened on creature comforts, time and energy saving devices so numerous, that lack of physical fitness is now the number one health threat. The distribution of wealth through factories, and automation, union and management bargaining, and anti-monopoly legislation unleashed the greatest consumer activity the world of man has ever seen.

The last century also saw America give rise to the greatest political freedom ever seen in the history of humankind. Suffrage for all adults, enactment and enforcement of laws limiting the power of government to unfairly or unjustly impinge upon individual freedom, and unprecedented removal of impediments to free expression by all throughout the society. It was the greatest of all centuries for any nation's people in modern times.

So, how can all this freedom and affluence point to a negative future? There are four components: history, greed, specialization, and self-importance.

History. This is the simplest component to explain. Every society in history that reached greatness fell in part due to disintegration. The common thread running through their demise was overreaching. It is a kind of historical Peter Principle, wherein every society garners strategies, techniques, and foundations upon which to grow and expand. And that growth and expansion continue until that society reaches its level of incompetence in managing the greatness of its geography, the greatness of its population numbers, the greatness of its wealth. Rome over extended its geographical reach and wealth, and failed to manage the diversity of the people incorporated into it. The great city-states of Greece grew over confident in their wealth and its ability to purchase military security. Persia, China, the British empire, Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and a number of others reached their level of incompetence in managing greatness, and fell. If history predicts, then history says the U.S. has, or is reaching, the fulfillment of its own national Peter Principle.

Greed and Specialization. More is always better. A common and pervasive fallacy that permeates all great nations, past and present, until it is too late to reverse. Only pre-modern civilization aboriginal tribes appear to be exempt from this fallacy by rejecting anything in excess of what they need to preserve tradition. There may be more, but, I know of only one such tribe left in the world, one that lives in the Amazon forest in Brazil which made international news 2 weeks or so ago when Brazil declared their territories once and forever, off limits to civilized exploitation. However, they are unlikely to survive black market forces and corruption of modern human activity despite legal protections.

In agrarian or hunter-gatherer societies, there is a limited amount of specialization of work. All females learn the same traditional ways of being a woman and fulfilling that role, and the same is true for men and the elderly. Labor is divided according to the tribe's needs and traditions, and all share roughly the same in the fruits of those labors. This limited specialization of labor and flat distribution of wealth is mandated by the survival of the tribe, which depends upon internal harmony and well being of its members.

Great civilizations however depend upon ever-wider expansion of specialization of labor; each vocational group becoming ever more dependent upon all of the other vocational groups for survival. If for any reason any of these vocational groups become dysfunctional or are put out of work, the effect ripples throughout the rest of society with those most directly dependent upon them most affected and those least dependent, less affected.

We are witnessing such an event occur in the US today as manufacturing jobs disappear and workers in those jobs are displaced. The families of these workers as well as the suppliers to their places of employment are most directly affected, but the ripple effect is felt through large segments of the rest of society as these good paying jobs with benefits are replaced with lower paying jobs with lesser to no benefits.

All great societies succumb to the 'More is Better' fallacy, which is taking its toll on our great nation. More businesses and profits mean more products, more garbage, more trash, more pollution. More choices and more specialization in the work place, mean more confusion, more dependency, and more ignorance. More freedom of speech and more avenues to express individual opinion are creating competitive tribes within the society itself. A microbiologist needs a whole slew of specialized people to support his efforts in microbiology: a car repairperson, a real estate agent, a financial manager, a day care center and/or school system for his kids, a yard and garden specialist, etc. etc. The reasons he is dependent upon them is two fold, he has neither the time, nor the knowledge to take care of these things himself.

An AC repairman asks a customer which model do you want? The customer does not even know how air conditioners work let alone which model is going to be the best choice for their needs. Hence, most customers, depending upon their level of affluence will reply by choosing the most expensive, or the cheapest model. (As if such a choice in anyway guarantees the customer the best value for their air conditioning need.) Of course the repairman wants to sell that unit with the greatest profit margin.

This dependency upon others breeds a degree of insecurity as all dependency does. The more estranged the folks are whom we depend upon, the greater our insecurity. The primary mechanism for the microbiologist to decrease his insecurity is to buy the best quality of specialists to take care of those things for him. Hence, his desire, and even need, to make more money to bid for the best reputation and quality of services which he depends upon others for. How many art buyers have relied upon experts in selecting an art investment, only later to discover it was a fraud?

If one listens to Congress or the President, the word more is one of the most used words. More schools, more revenue, more jobs, more clean up, more military, more health care, more nurses, more affordable health insurance, more of almost everything. This greed of great societies always leads down the same path, the path toward insufficiency. As greed demands ever more, eventually the society's demands will exceed its ability to supply those demands.

There comes a time in all great societies when a trigger event occurs which causes demand to overwhelm supply. That event can be a natural disaster as in the droughts that killed the Pharaoh's Egypt, a war that kills Germany's economic expansion or internal strife which causes a society's own laws and order to crumble. For many South American nations in the last century unsustainable debt and inflation became the trigger as is now occurring in Africa which causes disintegration of society in places like Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and the Sudan. In the Soviet Union, more military build up in the arms race became the excess that limited food and shelter essentials, which triggerd the downfall of the communist government.

In the US, it appears as though the combination of national debt and dual caste system of haves and have-nots could be the excess that brings down the curtain on America's greatness. Many great societies fail because some trigger event like excessive greed leads to ignoring the losses for many in the society of the basics of food, shelter, health, and physical security. All great societies, if not ended by another mechanism like war, will fail due to the greed factor spending the society's resources on non-essentials in the good times while ignoring and taking for granted the essentials when greatness is achieved.

More Americans are concerned about when they will be able to afford that in-wall digital 6' wide TV screen than they are about the loss of manufacturing and its ripple effects on the rest of society. More Americans are concerned about where to spend their vacation than they are about saving enough to weather the next economic downturn. More Americans are concerned about the cost of their children's prom or wedding than they are about saving for that lengthy retirement period when income will drop dramatically. Such are the seeds of greed that grow like a cancer in great societies precisely because of the historical Peter Principle which dictates the complexity of greatness will overwhelm the people's ability to manage it.

Self-Importance Greatness breeds a sense of self-importance and confidence that always exceeds reality. And this in turn leads to a lack of critical self-evaluation. A perfect example is America's use of torture of prisoners in the war on terror. Someone somewhere decided that since America is unrivaled in the world for military strength and economic might, America no longer had to be overly concerned about appearances. They decided not to constrain America by the Geneva Conventions on prisoner treatment, intelligence gathering was more important.

They overestimated their ability to keep torture and abuse secret and grossly underestimated the world's reaction and mistrust if such acts are revealed. Such is the liability of self-importance. Great societies inevitably reach a state when greatness exempts them from the rules that made them great. For decades, America fought and talked against autocratic regimes and their inherent dangers all the while propping up and supplying dictatorial regimes like Saddam Hussein's which aided America in some way toward its short term and short sighted goals of the day.

America places such confidence and self-importance upon its economic might that she is vulnerable to overlooking a world economy being built by nations that realize very clearly that it is to their benefit in the long run to become independent of America's influence. America does not see how the world economy could ever survive without America due to her overestimation of self-importance based on past and present economic greatness. While America recognizes the threat of those eccentric groups in the world which would rather die than submit to American influence or ideology, America often appears oblivious in its foreign policies to those societies like China who are reacting with a view of their own path to greatness not including dependence upon the United States.

Conclusion Agrarian and hunter-gatherer societies have few, if any issues which can divide them to the point of failing to provide the essentials. If an individual threatens the society, they are removed. But, in complex civilizations like ours, pervasive affluence breeds choice and differences. Differences of philosophy, religion, politics, affluence, power, control, and many others threaten to divide the society into camps of 'us' and 'them'. As long as the essentials are readily available and accessible to most of the society, such differences are not as likely to lead to civil war, though they have in other nations. A certain level of unity and one people identification is essential to the integrity of a great society. If it ceases to exist, those camps will move to eliminate other camps if a trigger event creates grossly insufficient supplies to fulfill essentials needs. Such was the case with our first Civil War.

America is rapidly losing that 'one people' identification and unity. Some Republicans believe the nation would be far better off without Democrats and vice versa. Some religious groups are demanding America become a one religion nation. Some conservatives say they know America's greatness is being harmed by liberals, and vice versa. There is even a breakdown between specialists.

Gone are the days when scientists were revered and their word on a topic accepted on faith. Today, even the most tightly controlled science produces opposition claiming the data and conclusions are tainted by hidden political motives. Also gone are the days when the people trusted government. Large numbers of Americans now view government as a necessary evil and are quick to form lobbying groups to oppose any new government initiative regardless of its merits.

These are the kind of differences that general and pervasive affluence produce. In the past, one had to belong to an organization with deep pockets to launch a public relations campaign to sway popular opinion. Today, anyone with a computer and a web site can attract a following and influence them to oppose some other group. One would think that general affluence would permit folks to vote with their dollar and shape the nation by what they buy and don't buy. But, that appears to be largely a myth.

The fact is, general affluence breeds the kind of greed that dictates one stretch one's dollar to buy the most of what one values, rather than sacrificing and paying more for something in protest of something else. The word is the weapon in our affluent society, and in politics, the word and money open the way to government; lobbyists and web sites are the wheels to deliver those weapons to the halls of Congress and the Whitehouse, and now even the courts. And those who do not believe and think as we do, become the targets of our word war efforts.

So, while America is not engaged in a physical civil war, she is deep in the throes of a verbal war with many factions seeking power to assert their will on the nation at large. This kind of disintegration of modern great affluent societies appears to be inevitable. Little more than a trigger event such as a deep recession or homegrown terrorist group with a just cause is needed to move America from a war of words and ideology to a more guerilla type gun and knife war in her streets. America beat back such a spawning ground for physical civil war back in the 1960's and '70's with enforced civil rights legislation and withdrawal from Viet Nam. It remains to be seen if the next trigger event will be countered as successfully.

America is a great nation. But if history has anything to say to America to guide her in remaining great, it says, stay humble, keep to the rules and policies that made you great, never forget your essentials of food, housing, health, and security, and never forget that your greatness depends upon the success of the vast majority of your people. Let not your desire for more exceed your abilities to maintain what made you great in the first place.

I will close with just one of many stories circulating that demonstrate America is following the path of all great nations in history. USATODAY.com: reports: "More Americans than ever with mental disorders are trying to get care, but only a third receive effective treatments, ..." One in four Americans suffer a mental disorder. This news item and a host of others are proof enough that general affluence is not necessarily an accurate measure of a successful and great society nor an accurate predictor of that society's staying power.

Posted by David R. Remer at June 9, 2005 05:57 PM
Comments
Comment #59015

Great post David!

I agree in the belief that greed is the number one reason why bad things happen on this planet: whether it be greedy CEO’s, corporations, politicians, special-interest groups, religions, wealthy individuals or anyone else; greed is the root cause for enviromental problems, poverty, lack of funding in necessary things like education, healthcare, etc. and a host of other problems we as Americans face today.

Posted by: Warren P at June 9, 2005 08:06 PM
Comment #59016

We must not demonize people based on wealth, religion, race, color, gender, etc.

The wealthy only have power because we give it to them. We’ve got to stop empowering them to use and abuse us.

If we were in their shoes, we’d do the same thing!

Work on the system. Don’t fall prey and be seduced into the divisive, distracting, and controlling mechanisms used to distract you from what’s really important.

Posted by: d.a.n at June 9, 2005 08:11 PM
Comment #59017

d.a.n., sorry, but I have to disagree. The wealthy have power precisely because they are wealthy. In this society, wealth opens doors and bends ears, and passes legislation and makes the rules. This was also true of aristocracies and monarchies, and feudal lords and war lords. It has always been so in the history of complex modern societies and thus it shall always be.

It could be otherwise, but, it won’t be. The vast majority of humans want and need to be led and it is rare that the leaders and the led all agree on the same path. There have been a few and rare exceptions where wealth was not the basis of power, like Christ’s followings in the first century, and Mahatma Ghandhi’s message which was so perfectly crafted to fit the needs of the masses of that time. Or even the independence movement in the Colonies here in the 18 century.

But those very rare and short lived periods in civilized history. Complexity and the leadership Peter Principle compensate for lack of competence with the power of money and the persuasion money brings. Got a message that is right, just, and needed? Without money and the power of it, that message will never move masses, not in this age of information overload and distrust. Without money and notariety, a message is just one of 294 million opinions regardless of its merit or value.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 9, 2005 09:36 PM
Comment #59018

David R. Remer,
Maybe you’re right. If so, we’re destined to do it the hard way.
I’m just (perhaps, futile) trying to show people they have the power to change it, if only a majority would unite to restore the balance of power.

Posted by: d.a.n at June 9, 2005 09:44 PM
Comment #59019

Warren P, thanks. Self-importance and Greed, the devil’s most favorite sins. They make him immortal in the world of human civilization. The combination of reason and logic, thirst for truth, and humility his greatest enemies. Which explains why humans are at their best when threat and tragedy.

When the fallacious argument is accepted, that power must be the first priority for without power, one cannot act for the people’s good, the society is on the road to demise. Because the first rule of power is to protect power, and ultimately the first rule negates all others. Thus, government is never going to escape compromising the people’s needs and the people’s agenda.

The problem with d.a.n’s argument is that when people successfully organize to seize power to change things for the better, they quickly adopt the first rule of power and become no better than those they siezed power from.

This is the absolute flaw of a republican form of government that places a wall of separation between the people and the politicians through mechanisms like the Electoral College and the Federal Elections Commission, and near impossible criteria for impeachment.

That is not to suggest there are clear superior choices to republican forms of government. Parliamentary and direct democracies have their own intrinsic flaws, traceable back to the first rule of power.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 9, 2005 09:58 PM
Comment #59020

I think America has survived a number of civilizational transitions just fine. Our secret is, American Civilization is what we make of it. We have survived the transition from agrarian economies to industrial, from industrial to consumer, from consumer to electronic. We have the robust variety of views and freedom to have them that allows us to simply agree our way out of a dysfunctional system. But there are limitations.

We must acknowledge the difficulties of our current economic situation. People need better reasons to believe that their investments will work out. There needs to be transparency in the governing systems of our society, public and private. We may not fall entirely as a nation, but we could have a rougher time in the transition if we don’t play our cards right. I think David is too pessimistic. We’ve survived worse. The question is, do we want to revisit the worst that can happen to a society like ours?

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 9, 2005 09:58 PM
Comment #59021

d.a.n., as I said in my article, that could happen but, only when the society finds its essential needs of food, shelter and security threatened or lost.

It amazes me how quickly the American people lost their cohesiveness and common purpose and resolve after 9/11. Truly amazing. But it was lost as quickly as the realization set in that we in America are still eating, setting records on home ownership, and apparently relatively safe from further terrorist attacks for the moment.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 9, 2005 10:03 PM
Comment #59022

Stephen, you make good arguments. My pessimism however rests on one you fail to observe. In the past, America had within her own borders and people the resources necessary to confront each of those civilizational transitions. Those days are are rapidly disappearing.

America has never, ever, been dependent upon the good will and commercial resources and raw materials of other nations and a globally interdependent economy as she is today. The American people may have the will to weather such transitions, but, she may not have access to the resources nor the cooperation of those she will have to look to when the next trigger event occurs. And then the internal blame game and civil strife will begin in earnest.

Like I said, if a trigger event causes large numbers of Americans deprivation in the way of nutrition, shelter, or security, the factions and their extremist members will go after each other. The 1960’s and 70’s urban riots and demonstrations against the government were but a glimpse of what is possible under such circumstances.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 9, 2005 10:13 PM
Comment #59030

Affluence is not the problem… it’s what that affluence was built on that is usually the problem. If you were to build affluence on, say, borrowed money, it would not be sustainable and therefore one could easily confuse affluence as the root of the problem when in fact it was poor money management that was the culprit.

Posted by: Zeek at June 9, 2005 11:08 PM
Comment #59031

Zeek, I am not sure you read the whole article. Mismanagement of funds is not what is addressed here in reference to affluence. One does not become affluent through mismanagement of funds, quite the contrary.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 9, 2005 11:12 PM
Comment #59033

Grrr… no, David I was referring to the general affluence of society.

However, if you want to talk about the “ultra-rich,” I would say you are mistaken in saying they are destroying our society… quite the opposite, they are the people who have built it.

Posted by: Zeek at June 9, 2005 11:24 PM
Comment #59034

Zeek, the factory workers of Ford Motor Co. built the cars that made Ford rich. Not the other way around. A common error among conservatives. I hear it all the time when wealthy folks talk about the homes they built. HAH! What a laugh. They never hammered a single nail, laid a single tile, or wired a single light switch, but, OH how they love to say They Built It. Labor made this country affluent with the ideas, motivation and assistance and cooperation (though reluctantly at times) of entrepreneurs, investors, and managers.

Managers and Investors never made a product nor raised a single dollar of profit without labor. So, please, let’s not forget the partnership that made America the most affluent nation on earth.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 9, 2005 11:33 PM
Comment #59040

So now things are bad because they are good? I’m confused. I thought things were bad because they were bad. The common denominator is that things are bad. Sorta like Eor. “It’s not much of a tail, but I’m sorta attached to it.”

I think things are as good as we make them. In every economy/society there is good and bad. We have to choose to live well whether we are cursed with properity or poverty. Given the two I prefer to be cursed with prosperity.

Craig

Posted by: Craig Holmes at June 10, 2005 12:22 AM
Comment #59042

Craig, the trick is keeping it. A number of well to do’s from 1929 might have some great advice for folks like yourself today.

A major point in the article is how interdependent all members of a society are upon each other. The prosperous cannot remain so when large numbers in the society aren’t. To keep that kind of society whole, you need a dictatorship and police state, like Saddam’s Iraq.

With the nation and its individual citizens leveraged like never before, any number of trigger events could disposess 10’s of millions of Americans of what they have and leave them wanting for basics.

One possible trigger event could be the 19 states currently considering redefining science classes to include creationism. Parents on both sides of this issue will not take this kind of departure from tradition and the legacy of the once greatest public education in the world being passively. Afterall, their children at the heart of the issue, and we all know what passions arise when parents feel their children and their future is being messed with inappropriately.

I mean, can you imagine the hostilities that would arise if millions of families in a dozen or more states feel forced to move from their jobs, their neighbors and friends to find a state where their children can receive the kind of science education which is crucial not only to their children’s, but this nation’s future?

Trigger events like this can wreak havoc on a great society in a myriad of ways including its economy.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 01:12 AM
Comment #59082

David~

O.K. let’s be fair here- many middle class that have homes built for them (granted they may be smaller homes) still refer to it as “the home they built”!

Posted by: Traci at June 10, 2005 09:17 AM
Comment #59090
David R. Remer wrote: d.a.n., sorry, but I have to disagree. The wealthy have power precisely because they are wealthy.

OK. The wealthy have power. But, we still shouldn’t denigrate a certain class based on level of wealth, because not all wealthy people are bad. Using level of wealth (labels, class, religion, race, etc.) hurts your argument more than it helps it, because it will bring out the anti-class-warfare people in droves (and rightly so). It clouds the issue and provides yet another distraction from the real cause and solution.

We should focus on the real problem and the true culprits. They are in government. We put them there. We can remove them. The middle-and-lower-income earners (the vast majority of voters) of the country could restore the balance of power (peacefully, economically, immediately), if they only they realized how easy it could be accomplished. They just need someone to tell them how easy it could be done. Some good, responsible politicians would love this to happen too. Some politicians are hoping the voters never realize this. We simply need to stop treating politicians as individuals and we need to start treating the Congress and Executive Branch as one entity. That one entity is in control, and it is our own doing, and we can fix it. We’ve got to ignore the money in elections, the many distractions (such as wealth, race, religion, etc.). When money gets into elections, it is rotten from there on out. We’ve got to stop voting for people just because they have the most money and air time on TV. If fact, we need to reject those types. It’s not working is it? We’ve got to focus on the real problem and the best way to fix it. Otherwise, those in control (in government) are about to crap in their own nest and bring about their own demise also, when the s#!t hits the fan.

Posted by: d.a.n at June 10, 2005 10:33 AM
Comment #59092

I think it unfair to assign blame in any form to the wealthy as a group unto themselves. Sure in many cases greed is the catalyst for and, often a continuing character trait of wealthy individuals. There are others however who are “giving back” to society and mankind in many wonderful ways.

The very existence of tax shelters, tax concessions, etc. certainly give the already wealthy the advantage of maintaining that status. Those same laws/concessions IMO are not avenues that lead to wealth but rather wealth maintenance and enhancement opportunities.

It is difficult to be critical of someone who has worked hard to become wealthy and even more difficult to show disdain over their desire to remain so.

In America we are taught from a very young age to “be the best we can be” as the US Army slogan reminds us. Often, depending upon the avocation we choose or, as a result of our own priority, it is not possible to become wealthy in the financial sense. Our rewards (wealth if you will) are found in our accomplishments.

The wealthy do not need business cards. Most often they are recognizable by appearance or conduct. Those who cater to the rich typically are not doing so because of a desire to be subserviant or are awestricken, they are looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

IMO people or groups of people who allow money, power, greed, knowledge and, a variety of other things to dominate their lifestyles will self destruct at some point in time.

More power to you if you are wealthy. You probably folowed a dream and are now living it.


Posted by: steve smith at June 10, 2005 10:55 AM
Comment #59104

David,

Managers and Investors never made a product nor raised a single dollar of profit without labor.

Please, do you really think that we would be anything other than cavemen were it not for the ingenuity and efficiency of managers and investors?

Labor made this country affluent with the ideas, motivation and assistance and cooperation (though reluctantly at times) of entrepreneurs, investors, and managers.

Again you make it sound as though labor is worth something without management, without a centralized command. It is not. Business people and investors are able to turn labor into a resource and create things with it, without that guidance, labor is just a useless commodity.

So, please, let’s not forget the partnership that made America the most affluent nation on earth.

And let’s also not forget who is dependent upon who here. Without the affluent citizens you seem to be condemning America would be a snake without a head.

Posted by: Zeek at June 10, 2005 11:43 AM
Comment #59106

David,

Which group will really bring down the nation,those with greed for wealth, or those with envy without ambition?

Posted by: Beagle at June 10, 2005 11:59 AM
Comment #59107
More power to you if you are wealthy. You probably folowed a dream and are now living it.

I’m dreaming of the trust fund Daddy set up for me…

Most wealthy people are from wealthy families. But keep dreaming the dream. There’s a 1-in-11,000 chance you’ll amass a million dollars in assets in your lifetime - if you inherited $800,000.

David, frankly I couldn’t read your whole post. It was way too long for my blog attention span. But if you’re saying greed is bad, I agree.

Greed and the fool’s dream of making a million bucks ensure that no one is outraged when the wealthiest one percent get a tax break that’s twice as big as what the other 99% of us got.

Posted by: American Pundit at June 10, 2005 12:00 PM
Comment #59108

Zeek, most people in this country are employed by small companies run by people who are not wealthy. A common mistake is to confuse entrepreneurs with rich folk.

Posted by: American Pundit at June 10, 2005 12:03 PM
Comment #59114

d.a.n., said: “OK. The wealthy have power. But, we still shouldn’t denigrate a certain class based on level of wealth, because not all wealthy people are bad.”

Please quote where I denigrate the wealthy or any other class of people based on wealth. I did not such thing. You are misreading what was written.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 12:43 PM
Comment #59116

Traci, we give credit to our soldiers who serve our needs. We give credit to our politicians who serve our needs. Why do we refuse to give credit to huge number of craftspersons who also serve our needs by building our homes for us? Why do we try to take credit for what others have done? I don’t care what class they come from, it is a self-perpetuating myth and denigration of craftspersons to steal the credit for what they built.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 12:46 PM
Comment #59117

Well, the title of the topic:

—— Affluence Destroying America’s Future?

That’s a bit crafty, but it will lead many to say the wealthy evil and causing our problems. It sort of fans the flames.

How about:

—— Some People in Government are Destroying America’s Future?


Posted by: d.a.n at June 10, 2005 12:49 PM
Comment #59119

AP, I would objectively recommend a full read. The article is not about class warfare. It is about historical dynamics and sociology of complex societal structures and how they follow some similar patterns toward the end of greatness.

I know the article is long. But, one does not examine the dynamics of why no great civilization in the history of humankind has ever survived in perpetutity, in a couple paragraphs. Politics simply mirror these underlying social dynamics discussed in the article. To understand politics and hope to influence their path, one has to understand the underlying dynamics of complex societies that achieve greatness status, and why they fail.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 12:56 PM
Comment #59120

To everyone who read, or partially read the article and took away from it the theme of class warfare, I say, REREAD IT!

The greed discussed is not of a particular class in society, it is a greed that is pervasive in all great complex societies and runs from the wealthiest down through all of the laborers who turn the machinery of society.

An equally important aspect of the article is the specialization of labor and where that leads.

If you thought the article was about the wealthy, read it again. We are all complicit in bringing an end to the greatness that was once America. If you didn’t catch that, I suggest rereading it again.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 01:01 PM
Comment #59122

No private company in all of history, big or small, has ever been formed just to provide workers with a paycheck, that is a side effect.

Only Government would be stupid enough to follow that path, and only then useing someone elses money.

Companys are formed to make a profit from an investment based on an idea, be it new or knowledge of market trends.

Limit profit and you limit business’s that provide jobs.
Workers have a right to expect a fair share for the services they provide, but if the demands exceed the going rate on the open market for that service, they soon become jobless.
No union is going to change that fact.
25,000 GM workers are about to face the fact that $25-$30 an hr. plus primo bennys was a stretch for tighting bumper bolts.

Toyota just said that they will raise their prices(out of love and consern for GM employee’s) to soften the blow to GM.

JUST who the hell is their PR manager? Carl Rove has nothing on him!! Raise your prices/profits because you see an oportunity to steal market share from a crippled co., and spin THAT into compassion for union workers losing their job! Toyota is one of many Japan companys that would close a plant before ever allowing a union.
That sounds harsh, but its only reality, the disney channel doesnt work in business or nature.

Posted by: Beagle at June 10, 2005 01:09 PM
Comment #59123

David~
HELLO? I was not defending anything just merely pointing out that it happens across all the classes.

Posted by: Traci at June 10, 2005 01:11 PM
Comment #59124

Zeek, I was very explicit about the “PARTNERSHIP” between investors, managers, and labor. VERY EXPLICIT! Your own prejudices are showing through your interpretation of what was written. Nowhere will you find a quote from me indicating labor is better or more important than the entrepreneurs, managers, and investors. I was pointing out that the wealthy take all the credit for something built in partnership with labor, when they say, I built that house.

I did build my own house from the foundation up without hiring a single contractor. It has taken 6 years and I can rightly take credit for it being built since I engineered it, architecturally designed it, and assembled every wire, every screw, every board, every pipe, siding and roofing piece. I can take credit for building it because I performed all the labor to construct it.

This is a far cry different than paying someone else to have it built and running around claiming I built it myself as many of the affluent do (which in the article includes everyone who isn’t homeless and indigent, in case you missed it).

We are an affluent society, which makes almost everyone in it affluent by definition when compared to places like Ethiopia, Sudan, or Zimbabwe.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 01:12 PM
Comment #59125

d.a.n. how about folks read the article and reply, instead of replying to the title. Titles by definition don’t tell the whole story, that is why they are followed by many paragraphs of elucidation.
The title is absolutely appropriate for the article. Affluence leads to the kind sociological phenomena that lead to the end of all great and complex societies. Note that all great societies in history were affluent. Note that none of them prior to the 18th century exist today in the grandeur of their heyday.

The article explains why that is.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 01:19 PM
Comment #59127

Beagle asked which group will bring down the nation. The answer Beagle is all groups which make up this affluent society. The article explains.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 01:22 PM
Comment #59128

AP,

A common mistake is to confuse entrepreneurs with rich folk.

Oh, alright, successful entrepreneurs. Happy now? :P

David,

Zeek, I was very explicit about the “PARTNERSHIP” between investors, managers, and labor. VERY EXPLICIT!

Partnership my ass, who is the greatest beneficiary in this so called “partnership?” This is really less of an example of mutualism than one might think. I will refer to my early analogy of labor being similar to a resource. But hey, that’s just me… if you think working for someone else is somehow benefiting you… don’t let me tell you otherwise.

Posted by: Zeek at June 10, 2005 01:24 PM
Comment #59129

David~

I think you’re going off the deep end a little here as far as being upset about who built the house or not! Many of my relatives are carpenters and I have never heard them crying about who took credit for their work. Most people can figure out that a builder did it, and if they can’t, the first time they asked said person to build one for them it would become quite obvious! My brother-in-law runs his own architecture buiseness (Classic Design- small but profitable) and the least of his worries are some stupid client saying they did the designs.The world is a much smarter place than you are giving people credit for.

But, just because I like you the next time I hear someone make this “false” claim I will be sure to run around the neighborhood with a megaphone setting the record straight!

By the way I think a builder will be more upset that you built your own home (hence taking the opportunity away from builders) than claiming that you built it. One takes $ out of their pocket the other dosn’t.

Posted by: Traci at June 10, 2005 01:25 PM
Comment #59131

Beagle, you comments about management and labor have nothing to do with the article written. Try responding to what is written in the article. This article is not about capitalism or socialism or constructs like that. It is about why all great societies regardless of political government, fail. It has nothing to do with class warfare.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 01:26 PM
Comment #59132

Beagle, try rereading the very first paragraph:

We have become the most prosperous nation in the world. There is however, evidence pervading our society supporting the argument that this very prosperity is sowing the seeds of discontent, which could destroy the integrity of this unified nation of hope.

Note the words prosperous nation meaning the whole country not just one group in it, and note the word WE, as in all who live in this nation. Affluence as I use it in the article was defined in the first paragraph. You apparently were not the only who missed it or forgot it by the end of this lengthy article. My apology for the length, but, fewer words could not have covered the dynamics at work in disintegrating America’s greatness.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 01:30 PM
Comment #59134

Traci, you are so correct about those who would resent my building my own home. A number of folks tried to stop me from doing it from county government to suppliers. It was an exercise in freedom, and I proved to myself that a person can still do something independently in this so called land of freedom. I jokingly call it the land of leeches, at times, because there are always some greedy vultures looking for a way to take some part of everyone else’s action.

As for overreacting. Well, perhaps. But, you see words create reality. In this country we give credit to CEO’s and Presidents, and the like, and the nameless masses who actually get things done, are rarely mentioned. That is a direct consequence of everyone in our society allowing folks to take credit for what masses below them did. It is one of the dynamics that will bring an end to American greatness, by enhancing discord and defining “us” vs. “them” groups which we see everywhere in politics, government, school boards, corporations, religions, etc. etc. etc.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 01:40 PM
Comment #59136

David R. Remer wrote:

d.a.n. how about folks read the article and reply, instead of replying to the title. Titles by definition don’t tell the whole story, that is why they are followed by many paragraphs of elucidation.
The title is absolutely appropriate for the article. Affluence leads to the kind sociological phenomena that lead to the end of all great and complex societies. Note that all great societies in history were affluent. Note that none of them prior to the 18th century exist today in the grandeur of their heyday.
The article explains why that is.

David, You’re correct. I did not see anything else that really denigrated the wealthy. The title comes close to doing it, but technically not perhaps.

Yes, I agree with the point that many great societies were affluent, and many are now gone. That’s part of this historical cycle we’ve seen over and over.

I fear we are headed for the same thing again, and I don’t like where we’re at now:
(1) oppression, totalitarianism
(2) courage, responsibility, revolution and/or civil war
(3) liberty, abundance
(4) selfishness, complacency, fiscal irresponsibility
(5) apathy, dependency, fiscal and moral bankruptcy, return to step (1)
The U.S. is currently at step (4) or (5) of its 2nd cycle.

But affluence is not really the problem.

People are the problem.

I still think the vote-em out idea has a chance of reform, because it is NOT about replacing people with better people. It’s about peer-pressure to be responsible, accomplished by firing them repeatedly, until the implement some no-brainer solutions that are needed now.
I think it would give them a reason to reform, but it may be the only way to avoid the historical cycle. We may not fair as well in the next cycle (as we survived the revolution and civil war, but at great cost).

Posted by: d.a.n at June 10, 2005 01:55 PM
Comment #59137

David~

I understand you’re meaning and respect it also! But, I think to many people get upset over words that really bare no consequences. All the people below these big wigs still have their accomplishments on paper, where it really counts for their resume’ in finding a new job if theirs is undesirable.Like I stated before you can claim all you want, but when someone calls on you for such buiseness, the truth will prevail, and they will contact someone with credentials!

Believe me, society is much smarter than it appears. I watch “The Apprentice” and all the hype over Donald Trump, but I can still see the reality that one person cannot accomplish all of this by themselves!

Congratulations on the accomplishment of building your own home…I’m sure it’s quite lovely!:)

Posted by: Traci at June 10, 2005 01:57 PM
Comment #59138

David,

In this country we give credit to CEO’s and Presidents, and the like, and the nameless masses who actually get things done, are rarely mentioned.

And you just explained why that is… they are nameless masses who are in no way extraordinary or exceptional.

Posted by: Zeek at June 10, 2005 02:00 PM
Comment #59140

David my friend,

I read your entire article(a good one btw), I would never say you were engaging in class warfare or anything close to it, I know you better than that.

I understand the article was about greed-wealth,
And how a blessed nation could consume its self if that were the primary goal of most of its citizens.
I think that I understood your point that, reguardlees of social statis, or one’s rung on the ladder, The basic mindset; that nothing but gaining more wealth matters, can bring down a nation.

I’ll try to stay more on topic in the future…sorry.

Posted by: Beagle at June 10, 2005 02:01 PM
Comment #59142

David,

I wrote my last post before I read your last, just FYI

Posted by: Beagle at June 10, 2005 02:05 PM
Comment #59146

Zeek, funny how kids step on ants thinking the same thing, they are nameless and not extraordinary in anyway. Just step on them.

Nope, I don’t allow my family or friends to claim they built anything just because they own it. My mom thinks I am a bit kooky too, so, you are in good company. :-)

I also questioned my friend’s pride in his BMW, and he got short fused when I did. He didn’t engineer and build in the quality of that vehicle, so why, I asked him, is he personally so proud of it? He finally got it, and conceded by saying he is proud to display BMW’s quality craftsmanship and pleased to own it.

He and I can now still be friends. I pick friends carefully, and their ability to see reality for what it is an important factor to me.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 02:28 PM
Comment #59150

Beagle, thanks for your comments. Sometimes this textual media is cumbersome when rational folks try to conduct a conversation.

There is a wing of the Republican Party that believes government should attend the basics for the benefit of all the people, and stay out of the rest of its citizen’s affairs. That concept has an appeal for me which I allude to in the article. I don’t embrace it fully, but, it has a great deal of merit.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 02:36 PM
Comment #59153

d.a.n. said: “I still think the vote-em out idea has a chance of reform, because it is NOT about replacing people with better people. It’s about peer-pressure to be responsible, accomplished by firing them repeatedly, until the implement some no-brainer solutions that are needed now.”

You and I are in complete agreement on this anti-incumbency strategy. It does hold out a great deal of hope for forcing politician’s hands to tend to the people’s will and needs from government. Jack Gargin initiated such a campaign back in the late ‘80’s I believe. It was a complete flop and bankrupted him. For such a campaign to work, you would need an informed public, and one which believes they are responsible for the government they have. That public just simply does not exist in sufficient numbers to make an anti-incumbency strategy work.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 02:41 PM
Comment #59155

Whoops… I failed to close the quote…. first time that’s happened, sorry David :P.

Moving on…

He and I can now still be friends. I pick friends carefully, and their ability to see reality for what it is an important factor to me.

Wow, you must not have a lot of friends then… Or maybe I’m just in the wrong state :)

But let us dissect your friend’s pride in his BMW. It is likely an expensive and flashy car, yes? People that “glitter” (rich people) often find it easy to buy such things that others consider luxuries or extravagances. Therefore, by owning things that glitter average people can pretend to be something they’re not. In a word, the car is a facade. This isn’t much to go on, but your friend sounds like a lot of the delusional people I meet in the world.

Posted by: Zeek at June 10, 2005 02:43 PM
Comment #59158

d.a.n. (sorry, didn’t complete my train of thought on the last comment)

The reason that public does not exist is due to the specialization of labor I talk about in the article. The public votes politicians in office and expects them to be responsible for attending to government. Just as they expect themselves to be responsible for the right hand nut and bolt on the widget they help assemble in their place of employment. Unfortunately, reality dictates that is now how democracy works. The people must hold themselves responsible for what politicians do, but, they don’t. They don’t want politicians telling them how to sell real estate or make widgets, so they don’t expect themselves to be telling politicians how to run government.

The psychology of specialization of labor is the problem and it is why all great complex societies of humans are destined to lose their greatness after enjoying it for 1 to 3 hundred years or so. I don’t think America’s greatness will last 150 years, having enjoyed 70 of them already.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 02:51 PM
Comment #59161

Zeek said: “Wow, you must not have a lot of friends then… Or maybe I’m just in the wrong state :)”

Yep, you are right. I don’t have a lot of friends, only a handful. But since, friendships take time and effort to maintain and preserve, I can’t afford a lot of friends.

I agree with you entirely about the glitz psychology. But, I would be the last person to say folks should not be free to pursue their own happiness (except when that pursuit deprives others of theirs). I just wish more people could be aware of how absolutely interdependent we are on others we don’t even know, and respect that interdependency.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 02:57 PM
Comment #59166

Traci, thanks for your comments.

Frank Herbert’s Dune trilogy, has a remarkable concept about words. I can’t quote the Bene’ Gesserit and Mentats in the book off the top of my head, but it went something very close to this:

Words have meanings, those meanings become integral to analysis. Analysis leads to conclusions and those conclusions lead to decisions and decisions lead to action. All social human action after the onset of language, therefore, can be traced directely to the words a society uses and how they are defined in the minds its citizens.

When a person buys a home built by others and then openly and in public without a second thought or twinge of apprehension states “they built it”, that person is reflecting society’s value system which puts the emphasis on wealth, and deemphasizes the value of labor. Such a value system has extremely broad and pervasive implications for how well that society performs and is shaped.

It is no accident that our nation is moving steadily away from manufacturing and headlong into service, R&D and capital lending/borrowing. Manufacturing labor is not valued in America. Manufacturing laborers are not valued in America. We are seriously short of nurses in this country and have been for two decades now. Why? Nurses are not valued, though they deliver 80% of the services provided in the health care field. Doctors get all the credit, and not surprisingly, they get 5, 10, 100 times the income of nurses.

Yes, words have meanings and those meanings reflect values and those values have consequences like interminable nursing shortages.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 03:16 PM
Comment #59170

David~

My mother is an RN (retired), believe me the nursing shortage has nothing to do with who gets credit- my mother couldn’t have cared less about the doctors. She made a respectable wage.

On the flipside of your comment, one would also argue that a doctor may get all the credit, but, there’s always a “but”, they also get all the criticism when things go wrong!

“With great power, comes great responsibilty!” - Spiderman

Some want it others don’t! These are choices a lot of lowely worker bees have made!

Great chatting w/ you- I will forever be the devils advocate!!!

Posted by: Traci at June 10, 2005 03:38 PM
Comment #59172

Thanks Traci, devil’s advocates keep us on our toes and ever sharpening our understanding and skills. Much appreciated.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 10, 2005 03:44 PM
Comment #59174

Wow David, between you and Stephen’s ‘Clear Cut Deceptions’ article in the Blue column, you two guys have totally knocked me out with the brilliant writing today!
Extremely well-written and fascinating piece.

I also loved this follow-up:
“the factory workers of Ford Motor Co. built the cars that made Ford rich. Not the other way around. A common error among conservatives. I hear it all the time when wealthy folks talk about the homes they built. HAH! What a laugh. They never hammered a single nail, laid a single tile, or wired a single light switch, but, OH how they love to say They Built It. Labor made this country affluent with the ideas, motivation and assistance and cooperation (though reluctantly at times) of entrepreneurs, investors, and managers.”

Bravo! Truer words were never written!!!

“Managers and Investors never made a product nor raised a single dollar of profit without labor. So, please, let’s not forget the partnership that made America the most affluent nation on earth.”

People do so all the time, but interestingly enough, if an enormous economic downturn does occur, it is the skilled people who are able to work with their hands who are usually the last to find themselves unemployed, while all the former self-important paper-pushers and management types are long gone.
My husband and I have already seen this happening — he’s a head carpenter and maintenance man (which is of course a union job) in one of downtown San Francisco’s major department stores — and since the dot com bust, he has watched as an enormous number of middle and head management types have been steadily losing their jobs, while his is just as secure as ever. Its hilarious too, because the suit-types have a habit of mistaking him for some kind of an idiot simply because he wears overalls to work — meanwhile, he often makes much more than they do, and unlike them, has full health coverage!
Looking at the economic picture of today, I encourage anyone who has children to consider having them learn a trade (perhaps in a highschool vocational program), even if you also want them to go to college — because learning a trade is a lot like an having a employment insurance policy.

“I did build my own house from the foundation up without hiring a single contractor. It has taken 6 years and I can rightly take credit for it being built since I engineered it, architecturally designed it, and assembled every wire, every screw, every board, every pipe, siding and roofing piece. I can take credit for building it because I performed all the labor to construct it.”

Cool.
Oh, how I love a man who looks good wearing a tool belt! ;^)

My husband and I have done something pretty similar — we bought a completely run-down house (age built: 1912) and have been doing everything ourselves (can’t afford to do it any other way), so far this has included completely replacing the foundation and doing earthquake blocking between all the floor joists, re-wiring, ripping out and replacing all the plumbing, tearing down walls and rebuilding new ones to completely change of the floor plan, and putting in two new bathrooms.
Removing the old siding (which is redwood but rather warped — so it can be resold and recycled) and then replacing with cedar shingles (very appropriate for our house style) is next, which will be followed by a complete kitchen remodel.
The only thing we haven’t done ourselves has been replacing the roof (I’m very impressed you did yours yourself!) and putting in a new heater. So far it’s taken five years, it’ll probably be another two before completely done. It’s been one hell of a lot of work, but I am glad to say that the worst of it is over.
Anyway, knowing what I do the hard work entailed, I really admire your sentiments on that subject, as well.

Posted by: Adrienne at June 10, 2005 03:51 PM
Comment #59176

David~

Like I’ve said before…..I may not always agree w/ what you say, but I respect you and the WAY you argue. I never feel like you’re just trying to get a pot shot in.

I only wish I had better restraint w/ others……oh well, it’s a work in progress!

Posted by: Traci at June 10, 2005 03:55 PM
Comment #59177

David,

I understand your feelings about the wealthy stating that they built a house when they never put any actual labor into it, especially when you actually built your house with your own hands. Congratulations by the way.

In defense of those who say “we built that house”, it is not only the wealthy. Depending of course how you define wealthy.

The term “we built that house” has become synonomous with describing a house that was not previously owned or constructed by a builder.

Couples who select an architectural design, possibly massage it for their own needs and have a builder or series of tradespeople construct it will say when describing how their house came to be as “we built it”. They know, and people they know realize that they do not mean “built” as done with their own hands.

Posted by: steve smith at June 10, 2005 04:01 PM
Comment #59181

David,
Sorry for not including in my previous post.

I think the right to be able to build one’s own house should transcend all political boundaries.

It is becoming more and more difficult, if at all possible, in certain areas to build your own house. Their are items needed that cannot be purchased by anyone other than a builder or licensed contractor.


Believe it or not some building material
suppliers will limit the quantity sold of specific building materials to persons other than builders and/or licensed contractors.

I have seen this first hand so I kinow it to be true.

It is difficult to imagine that the Federal Government has anything to do with this but it could easilly be either a conspiracy at the supply chain level and/or a local and/or State code issue.

This disgusts me and, as you know I tend to have slightly right of conservative opinions on things.

Posted by: steve smith at June 10, 2005 04:18 PM
Comment #59186

Building a house tends to be used metaphorically, but you have a good general point.

I suppose you could substitute caused it to be built. The same goes for Henry Ford.

But I think you have committed a fallacy of comparing a group to an individual. As a group, the workers built the cars and Henry would have been lost without them. But each individual worker was largely irrelevant to the success, whereas Fordís ideas and management expertise made the enterprise happen. In other words, if you go back to 1908 and remove John Kowalski, who worked for Ford, or even if you remove him and a dozen of his coworkers, history remains pretty much the same (I donít want to get into the sci-fi implications). But without Henry there are big changes.

Posted by: jack at June 10, 2005 04:49 PM
Comment #59190

Zeek,

Anyone that can’t count their friends on the fingers of one hand likely has none, only known persons that will shake hands and say Hi.

Posted by: Beagle at June 10, 2005 05:05 PM
Comment #59198

Beagle,

Anyone that can’t count their friends on the fingers of one hand likely has none, only known persons that will shake hands and say Hi.

I never said true friends were easy to come by. But in general people consider those who they willingly spend a lot of time with “friends.” And it is possible for people to have more than 5 friends :P

Posted by: Zeek at June 10, 2005 06:26 PM
Comment #59201

David, this is a well reasoned essay. It has one flaw: This is not an affluent society. It is a society badly divided between rich and poor.

Back in April of 2004 I did an article on poverty. I’ll quote some statistics:

- 32% of the working population earns less than $15,000 a year

- 20% of the working population earns between $15,000 and $25,000 a year

- 45 million people do not have health insurance

Most of these people are working poor. They work but can barely make ends meet. Some are starving.

The big problem is not that we have an affluent society, but that there is a huge gap between rich and poor.

The gap is fed by greed, which is exacerbated by the American religion of competition. We are the best. We always win. We are the most religious. We are good; everyone else is evil.

If we can dent this excessively competitude attitude we have a chance to save our civilization.

Posted by: Paul Siegel at June 10, 2005 07:08 PM
Comment #59217

Paul,

The gap is fed by greed, which is exacerbated by the American religion of competition.

What are you suggesting? That we do away with competition? That we suppress the greed within everyone? Or, perhaps you just want to “dent” this so called “religion of competition.” Well, how big does that dent need to be and how do you propose we do it? This is not to imply that it is a good idea, only that it is both a bad and impractical idea.

Posted by: Zeek at June 10, 2005 11:17 PM
Comment #59234

Paul, your statistics are close to accurate if not accurate. But, we are, as a nation of 294 million people, amongst the most affluent across our population as exists in the world today.

The next economic downturn could easily split our population into poor and rich with a much smaller middle; of that I have no doubt.

But our expectations as a people of what is necessary and essential represents a little less than half the rest of the world’s population idea of what is either middle class or wealthy.

I agree with you though, that if America does not attend its own Aids victims, its own poverty, and its own crimes of greed as it does Aids victims in Africa, or poverty stricken in the Tsunami struck areas, or crimes of terrorism and money laundering and political corruption elsewhere in the world, then America will be torn into civil strife.

I am appalled by Bush’s and Congress’ intent to give millions and millions of tax payer dollars to African Aids patients, but, won’t spend what it takes to effectively eradicate AIDS in the U.S.

I am appalled that we will give billions of tax payer dollars to Tsunami victims overseas, but, would not extend unemployment benefits for Americans until the recession recover was behind us.

And I am appalled that we spend billions proping up military dictators like Musharaff and fighting corruption in Bogata, but, won’t lift a finger against the huge number of employers in America who exploit illegal workers for less than minimum wages, or sincerely investigate and prosecute those responsible for permitting 9/11 to happen.

No, we have become a corrupt nation, with a black market that rivals the entire GDP of many other smaller nations. We have become a corrupt political system that accepts bribery and blackmail as daily standard operating procedure in Washington D.C.’s halls of Congress and the Whitehouse.

And we are becoming an enormously polarized people on values issues which have no remedy, no solution, and ultimately I fear, no peaceful reconciliation.

We tolerate 10’s of thousands of cases of child molestation and abducted children, we tolerate an enormously high murder rate, and we tolerate an endless stream of white collar crimes that negatively impact the cost of living for all tax payers and consumers. We more than tolerate it. We turn a blind eye to it. And it is not that we don’t care. It is that we have reached our level of incompetence. We don’t KNOW HOW to deal with these issues as a society. And that is why our future dims with each passing day.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 11, 2005 04:39 AM
Comment #59235

Adrienne, thank you for those generous comments. My wife agrees, I do look sexy in a tool belt (and nothing else she says).

Congratulations on your rebuild. I suspect it is not a project you would ever choose to undertake again, but, if you are like us, you would not trade in the experience, wisdom, and knowledge that came with such an immensely complex undertaking. It is one thing to talk about the complexity of a building, but one does not truly appreciate it until one has first hand experienced the design and construction or reconstruction of one. And how like a home society is in so many ways. The metaphors and analogies are ever present in my analysis of societies here and abroad.

A high school teacher of mine taught me the key to success in any organization is getting to know and befriending the custodians. They were there before you got there, and will likely be there long after you are gone, and the organization would fall apart without them in a matter of days.

I took that advice to heart in a few places where I was made manager or ED, and found them to be a treasure trove of inside of information. They knew things no one else knew about each other and the goings on, when folks think no one else is paying attention. Give them a card and present at Christmas and a card and thank you note on their birthday and they will create a grapevine to your ear that you never knew was possible.

To the working people who make other’s dreams of fame and fortune come true, here, here!

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 11, 2005 04:54 AM
Comment #59236

Jack said: “I suppose you could substitute caused it to be built. The same goes for Henry Ford.”

How about something simple and truthful like BOUGHT ? It is straight forward, and honest. It says you paid money for it, and others built it. And if you are proud of your purchase it also indirectly compliments those responsible for building it.

But to say you built it when all you did was pay for it, is the kind of self-importance that stands as a kind of psychological barrier between oneself and others. It is a way of dishonestly setting oneself above others, cheating them of the credit they are due. But, we are now that kind of society which is losing its sense of community, its sense of safety in society, and its sense of national brother and sisterhood. It is too late to try to change it now. This greed and self-importance that propels us upward on the pyramidal backs of our fellow citizens without even being aware they are our support base, is embedded deep in our cultural psyche and won’t be undone until dramatic tragedy strikes which affects us all equally, like 9/11 did. But, look at how short-lived that common shared experience which brought us together was.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 11, 2005 05:04 AM
Comment #59238

steve smith, it is not the federal government directly or solely that conspires to squash individual effort and accomplishment like mine, though, through the FHA, VA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, they have their fingers in this “conspiracy” too.

The insurance companies are a big conspirator as are lending institutions (but in defense of lending institutions, their ratings depend heavily on FHA and VA, Freddie and Fannie.) That said I could not get a loan to build my house because I did not have a general contractor. I said I would be the general contractor. They asked if I had a license. I said no. They said sorry, can’t help you. Fine, we saved and borrowed other ways.

Then we went to get insurance against theft or fire or vandalism or tornado on the construction. They said because I am not a general contractor and a business, I could not get builder’s insurance. Fine, we never left the property unattended for than a few hours in 6 years.

Now we are seeking a homeowner’s policy, and all the major companies tell us that if the house burns down due to faulty wiring they can’t recover the claim amount from the contractor since there is no contractor, so they can’t give us a homeowner’s policy. We finally found a company nobody ever heard of who will issue us a policy for $1300 a year on a $145,00 home. We are now considering self-insuring.

We went to get the homestead exemption for tax purposes. County says they have no record of the house being built. And they said we can’t file for it ourselves. I asked them what documentation is needed; I took some business law courses. They said, they couldn’t explain, we would have to consult an attorney. At that point I just assumed it was the long hair and graying beard that was getting in the way down here in Central Texas and I resolved to spend a day at the university law library soon to gather the information on what is required.

I am hoping to plunk down the required information and documentation, signed off by myself as my own counsel and have them tell me they can’t accept it. Then I will be glad to hire an attorney to sue the damn County for obstruction of due process.

Yeah, it is getting harder and harder to be an independent person in this society, but it is still the thrill of a lifetime to take on the bureauacracy and win. It has happened for me in fairly big ways twice, here with the house, and with a former huge insurance company employer who never dreamed little old me could force them to change their treatment of employees all across the nation. I enjoyed the hell out of it for years afterward and me and my 6 credit hours in business law are still proud as hell to this day.

There are a good number of folks in this country fighting these kinds of good fights for fair and decent treatment at the hands of power. Most of them never make the headlines, and most of their names will never be read in public print. But, they are out there winning these small battles day after day.

Many others are out there growing their own food, repairing their own machines and cars, and recycling in incredibly creative ways, building homes out of tires, hay bales, cordwood, concrete, and tamped earth and under the earth. That is why for all my critical essays, I never lose hope.

As long as there are a handful of persons who are willing to take the responsibility for fighting for their independence from the mainstream, and fighting the bureaucracy and power that truly seeks every person to be unexceptional and cut from the same mold (which makes their bureaucratic jobs easier and reduces their anxieties), then there is hope.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 11, 2005 05:52 AM
Comment #59240

David,

“We went to get the homestead exemption for tax purposes. County says they have no record of the house being built.”

If they have no record of a house being on your property, how the hell can they tax you on it?

I’d try to get that in writing that there is no record of a house, then sue them for the taxes you have paid on it.
After they get that straightened out, wait untill the last day to pay your taxes, pay them with buckets of loose pennys, just make sure you have a witness when they refuse payment.

If someone refuses payment on a debt, the debt is voided, I’m quite sure thats the law nationwide.

Posted by: Beagle at June 11, 2005 07:38 AM
Comment #59243

David Remer,
Your post detailed your determination despite a series of obstacles along the way. My post to you was supportive of your effort and accomplishment. I knew in your case that “where there is a will there is a way”. My reference to the difficulty that one incurs when building their own house was only intented as informative, not to discourage. I have nothing but admiration for your accomplishment.

Beagle,
Hopefully you exagerate in your advice to David on how to remit payment with pennies, etc. The last thing anyone really wants to do in this situation is draw more attention to themselves from the authorities.

There is a story from many years ago where a new car was advertised by a dealer. It said “10,000 bananas buys this car”. A guy showed up with the bananas and they obviosly had to sell him the car. The end result is that the attention to the issue made for advertising reform.

I give this example because if David takes a “look what I did” approach he will spoil it for others who may wish to follow his examples. More laws and policies will be written than we can shake a stick at.

Posted by: steve smith at June 11, 2005 09:18 AM
Comment #59245

Steve,

From talking with David many times about the crap he has recieved about building his home, I think they already have him on the “shit list”.

Whatever he does now wont make that worse, it might get media coverage to let others know whats going on in his county.
True, he could just take it in the behind and shut up, I doubt he will and I wouldn’t either.

Posted by: Beagle at June 11, 2005 09:40 AM
Comment #59246

Beagle,

I wish him nothing but the best but sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Bringing too much attention or “gloating” (not to say that David would do that) can very well irritate the wrong people. Suddenly you get speeding tickets, your utilities have interrupted service, etc. You know what I mean.

I agree that media coverage can be a great ally but, sometimes an unwanted nuisance. In any case GO DAVID.

Posted by: steve smith at June 11, 2005 10:29 AM
Comment #59249

Steve,

Even a shark will swim away if you poke them in the eye, if they were planning on eating you anyway, what is lost by fighting back?

I understand your point that its often easier and cheaper to just comply, be it a bully on the playground or a gov agency that is screwing you over, you might get your ass whooped if you challange them, but they will likely mess with someone else next time.

I don’t see David’s case as something that will turn violent, but some people if they know they’re right, just wont become a sheep, no matter how many times someone crys wolf.

“Non-sissy” crosses all party lines!

Posted by: Beagle at June 11, 2005 11:11 AM
Comment #59252

Beagle,

I just don’t want to see a good poster with his name on a poster.

Also you can get more bees with honey…

Posted by: steve smith at June 11, 2005 11:58 AM
Comment #59255
David R. Remer wrote: The reason that public does not exist is due to the specialization of labor I talk about in the article. The public votes politicians in office and expects them to be responsible for attending to government. Just as they expect themselves to be responsible for the right hand nut and bolt on the widget they help assemble in their place of employment. Unfortunately, reality dictates that is now how democracy works. The people must hold themselves responsible for what politicians do, but, they don’t.

I hope your wrong about this, but I see that we’re headed for a decline, unless people do start holding their government responsible as a single entity, with the much needed peer pressure, and knowledge their stay in office will be short if they’re irresponsible.

Still, I have to hold on to some hope, and must not yet resign to accept the rotten system as it is now. These many ominous problems are headed for the perfect storm (as you called it). I may not be around when the cycle restarts, but my children will be. I hate to think they’ll suffer for what is our doing (the previous generation). We’re bankrupting their future (not just monetarily).

Posted by: d.a.n at June 11, 2005 12:09 PM
Comment #59262

David:
“Congratulations on your rebuild. I suspect it is not a project you would ever choose to undertake again, but, if you are like us, you would not trade in the experience, wisdom, and knowledge that came with such an immensely complex undertaking.”

Definitely — though I might not have agreed with that if you’d said it to me when we were working on the foundation! :^)

“And how like a home society is in so many ways. The metaphors and analogies are ever present in my analysis of societies here and abroad.”

I totally agree.
And to use just one of them, my mind again immediately returns to the importance of the foundation — of how difficult yet essential a thing it is. If strong and carefully built, it can take all the loads and stresses that will be placed upon it. But if it becomes weak and starts to crumble, nothing that has been built on top of it can, or will remain stable and solid.
That is one of the ideas that I hope people are able to absorb as they read your article above.

“A high school teacher of mine taught me the key to success in any organization is getting to know and befriending the custodians. They were there before you got there, and will likely be there long after you are gone, and the organization would fall apart without them in a matter of days.”

That is so true.
And I think its also wise for people not to make sweeping assumptions about another persons value or worth because of the work they do, or the uniform they wear.
For instance, that custodian might actually have chosen to do his job for a huge variety of reasons. Sure, it may be that he isn’t all that bright, but it is just as likely that he’s decided to save his intellectual energy for another passion or pursuit — which could be music, or writing, or art, or any other thing we could name.
This is frequently something that I find very objectionable about snobby, status-obsessed people — that they’ll often pass by someone everyday for years without even realizing just who they really are.

Also, I mentioned previously how because my husband wears overalls he is often mistaken for a dimwit even though he makes quite a good living, but the truth is, his job is also actually much more complex, challenging and mind-engaging than the jobs of many of the people around him who wear suits.
The man is using geometry, algebra, and physics and having to keep public safety parameters and requirements in mind while building all kinds of things on a daily basis. And these have to be constructed beautifully, yet quickly, efficiently and within a tight budget, in order to cater to the ever-changing artistic or trend-driven whims of people in the art department, or because someone in top management had “a vision” that has to be fully realized in a day or a week, or they’re libel to throw a fit.
But no, because he’s wearing those overalls and a tool belt and has a bit of sawdust in his hair, they automatically assume he is somehow less intelligent than they are — even though he has a college degree just like they do, is brilliant, creative, and very well read, but has actually chosen to work with his hands and be happy, rather than sit behind a desk and be totally miserable.
Luckily, he’s able to just laugh that kind of an attitude off because he really loves what he’s doing (and sometimes feels bad for others because often to him they don’t seem to be taking much satisfaction from their own work), but I have to admit, it annoys me that because of their bias or cluelessness, they don’t, or rather, can’t, appreciate the amazing talents and skills of people that do his type of work.

In other words, with self-importance, there is usually some measure of ignorance too.

“To the working people who make other’s dreams of fame and fortune come true, here, here!”

I’ll second that!

Posted by: Adrienne at June 11, 2005 01:00 PM
Comment #59268

Steve,

With all due respect, if you ever see David’s name/picture on a wanted poster, it will likely read;..

WANTED..David R. Remer…To speak to a group of students ready to graduate,about common sence and dealing with life in the real world.

I could apply that to many other editors here, but in this case, It fits quite well.

Thats just my opinion, but I can respect your’s also.

Posted by: Beagle at June 11, 2005 02:29 PM
Comment #59272

Beagle,

Surely you realize my comment was one of sarcasm and intended only to mean that I hate to see people who are decent and trying to do a decent thing get caught up in uncomfortable situations.

I am hoping that your response in support of David was not meant as an an attack on my comments. You can see in this entire thread I have been very supportive of what David has done.

Posted by: steve smith at June 11, 2005 03:49 PM
Comment #59274

Beagle and Steve, thank you both for your supportive comments. I got a little carried away chatting with Adrienne, and overstepped my normal boundary of not interjecting my own personal anecdotal experiences.

It’s a little embarassing to see my own experiences discussed in one of these columns, and regret a little bit taking the topic of this article to the personal level. But, I am pleased to see that others here value individual honest effort which does not necessarily conform to social norms and some times fights it.

But, to me, that struggle between social norms and individual freedom is one which is inherent in all free or semi-free societies, and one that must be constantly fought by individuals to preserve individual freedom, which anthropologically, threatens society at large, or at the very least, makes it anxious. The seed of a great many slippery slope arguments are found in this struggle between individual freedom and society’s need for uniformity and conformity.

It is a never ending battle if a society is to retain its claim on being a free society. It is why I had the greatest of respect for Ralph Nader. He spent his life taking on the status quo and bureaucratic self-defenses of uniformity and conformity. A perfect example is the GOP defending Tom DeLay’s bribed activities by stating accurately that Democrats are guilty too!

Ralph Nader says that defense is meaningless; it only serves to perpetuate the activity: and both parties need to be forced by individuals standing for honest responsible government to clean out their bribe taking members. These are the good fights, small and large that I would hope many more Americans would participate in just once in their lives. Our nation would be so much better served by that effort.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 11, 2005 04:12 PM
Comment #59312

“I got a little carried away chatting with Adrienne, and overstepped my normal boundary of not interjecting my own personal anecdotal experiences.”

Oh pshaw. While you might regret it, I found it very interesting to hear a little of your personal experience. Perhaps because it’s a bit lopsided the way so many of us on this blog know such a lot about each others political and philosophical minds, and not much else.

Posted by: Adrienne at June 12, 2005 09:50 AM
Comment #60818

From my standpoint, I think David Remer’s arguments make a lot of sense and wouldn’t it be nice if the surface media, as opposed to the underground blogosphere or whatever this is called, had the same degree of essays, debate and conversation. Anyway, my point is that there was a great deal of to and fro about the wealthy and the workers, to put it summarily. As someone who has worked his whole career in developing countries, it may be worth reminding folks of the simple fact that, if people have no gainful ways of making a living and hence no income they a) will not be buying all the good and services that the rich folks think that they will be producing (with robots and outsourcing to other countries) and b) the unemployed will simply go underground (what the UN calls the informal sector) and create an alternative economy. This is what happened in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the Communist period when you also had a corporatist and sclerotic economic structure.
Hurrah, go the GOP folks. That means lots of small businesses. Yes, exactly! And they will take all kinds of forms and viewpoints and many of them won’t be much interested in the grotesquerie of our current leaders. Be careful what you wish for.

Posted by: Jim Tarrant at June 17, 2005 03:54 PM
Comment #60888

Jim, those are astute comments about alternative economies. And alternative economies take generations bring into the legal fold. Such economies tend to be handed down generation to generation because of all the avoidance of getting caught behavior that is passed down to offspring who of necessity, are forced to aid and abet their parents hiding the blackmarket or alternative economy activities.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 17, 2005 06:58 PM
Comment #61697

Affluence won’t destroy america’s future because people have been getting more wealth for centuries and it has not destroyed any society in the past.

Posted by: Pearls Before Swine at June 21, 2005 02:11 PM
Comment #61985

Wealth and affluence are not the problem. But it is part of a historical cycle. But the real problem is the people:
(1) a relatively small group of people that abuse weatlth and power (but those few can do incredible harm).
(2) a majority of people that are complacent and allow a minority to control, mismanage, use and abuse.

And, societies do fail, decline, fall into ruin, and are often destroyed. History shows us thousands of examples.

But wealth is sort of like guns, religion, etc.

Wealth doesn’t harm people.
Guns don’t harm people.
Religions don’t harm people.
Republicans don’t harm people.
Democrats don’t harm people.
Politicians don’t harm people (they’re not all bad).

Some people harm people.

And it’s always a relative few in government with wealth and power, that mismanage and run countries into the ground. Is it just human nature to do this over and over?

The questions are: Is it inevitable? Is the abuse of wealth and power a result of the historical cycle? Are we locked into auto-pilot? Is it futile to question all the symptoms of being at step (4) or (5)? Must we return to step (1)? We’ve got some major problems all culminating about the same time, which could bring on a melt-down and collapse this entire, fragile house of cards that we’ve built: energy shortages, failure of Social Security and Medicare, plundered and bankrupt pensions, unaffordable & unreliable health care, 30% of each tax dollar going to interest only on the National Debt, an aging population, unemployment & falling incomes (like after 9/11/2001), ever increasing taxes, and increasingly abused tax system, increasingly worse corporate and stock fraud, declining public education, crumbling infrastructure, failing mass transit (railways and airlines), globalization & the race to the bottom (rooted in corporate greed), skyrocketing populations worldwide with increasing poverty, disaffection, ignorance, unsecured U.S. borders, increasing alienation of allies, energy vulnerability, potential eletricity and communications blackouts, which could quite likely be followed by rioting & looting, increasing poverty, civil unrest, terrorism, and war (Iraq).

Do we have reason to be hopeful?

It’s hard to be hopeful, unless you’re able to ignore the many signs of the gathering storm. We may not be able to break the cycle. We’ve already been through it a couple of times. We’re about to restart the cycle. Will the U.S. survive the next go around? Especially, with all of the culminating problems, all about the same time, and few options left to us as a result of huge $8 trillion in National Debt and $40 trillion in personal debt?

Posted by: d.a.n at June 22, 2005 10:31 AM