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Archive for August 1st, 2010

Daniel Little makes a good point in this discussion of social justice movements:

One of the constraints I mentioned on social change in an earlier post is that we need to test proposed new institutions in terms of how they would work, given people as they are (post). But this is slightly questionable, in that it takes existing social consciousness as a given rather than being itself an object of change.
In particular, a successful outcome of either of these struggles entailed changing more than laws and institutions; each required a change of consciousness and morality in the white population of power-holders. If the majority of the white population had remained violently racist, then democratic racial equality may not have been a sustainable social order…So a strategy for change required changing both structures and consciousness. And this means that we have to be reflective about what sorts of factors we take as fixed rather than changeable.
This also implies a change of emphasis in the analysis of social progress argued previously. Some crucial advances in social justice have been anything but continuous and gradual; but have rather been daring, improbable, and crucial. Being deliberative about strategies of social change does not imply being slow to act or reluctant to take on large challenges.

This also implies a change of emphasis in the analysis of social progress argued previously. Some crucial advances in social justice have been anything but continuous and gradual; but have rather been daring, improbable, and crucial. Being deliberative about strategies of social change does not imply being slow to act or reluctant to take on large challenges.

This sentiment undoubtedly applies to economic change as well. The assumption of a homo economicus, even where it has a grain of truth, is rooted in an economic system that encourages such behavior. Marx was well aware of this, as his notion of materialism put material conditions as the primary cause, and social consciousness as their consequents. Reshaping social consciousness does not necessarily require revolutionary change, though. In church this morning (it is a sunday after all, so forgive me for the religious interlude), my pastor pointed out the conflict between a belief in the social gospel and a belief in scarcity. The solution, she argued, is to build institutions that “promote generosity.”

We can imagine other characteristics we want our social institutions to promote as well. Being willing to re-imagine social consciousness, rather than take it for granted, is indeed a key element of achieving progress. There are a number of radical institutions that have attempted this sort of program (the Catholic Worker movement, the Mondragon cooperative, and others)- linking these efforts through things like the World Social Forum is key to form a more coherent and progressive consciousness.

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“It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”        –George Carlin

That quotation best sums up the last 3o years. Baby-boomers are finding that they will never be able to retire, and college students are moving back in with their parents. All are mired in mountains of consumer debt or student loans. This is the situation that Edward Luce sees, in his article “The crisis of middle-class America.”  What is clear is that (mainstream) economists do not have a good explanation of why the middle class living standards have stagnated over the past three decades. It’s about time we start looking at more relevant data than the stock market and GDP, as Luce cites:

The slow economic strangulation of the Freemans and millions of other middle-class Americans started long before the Great Recession, which merely exacerbated the “personal recession” that ordinary Americans had been suffering for years. Dubbed “median wage stagnation” by economists, the annual incomes of the bottom 90 per cent of US families have been essentially flat since 1973 – having risen by only 10 per cent in real terms over the past 37 years. That means most Americans have been treading water for more than a generation. Over the same period the incomes of the top 1 per cent have tripled. In 1973, chief executives were on average paid 26 times the median income. Now the multiple is above 300.

Only once we start looking at the relevant economic data can we begin to address the structural problems that have been rewarding the few at the expense of the majority.

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