Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Values

Yesterday I was driving home, listening to NPR and Bloomberg (listening to NPR marks me by some as a liberal and listening to Bloomberg, I suppose, as a conservative...or at least a capitalist :-), when I came across a segment on notable deaths of 2010.  Among them, Alexander Haig, former secretary of state under the Reagan administration.  Now, normally, I would have not paid it much heed - since I'm not a fan of Ronald Reagan (I guess another mark in the "liberal" column) - but NPR played an excerpt from an interview with Haig in 2002, in which Haig said something very interesting and unexpected regarding the fall of the Soviet Union and Marxism:
To declare the Cold War over, and declare democracy has won out over totalitarianism, is a measure of arrogance and wrong-headedness. And if you look back at a lot of our problems today, it's the direct product of that baloney about the new world order and why Marxism collapsed. It wasn't that their values were defeated by our values; it was our system that defeated theirs, the market economy.


I thought this was particularly insightful: he separates the values inherent in the two ideologies (socialism vs. capitalism) from the economic systems that grew out of those ideologies.  The "free market" (put in quotes, since the recent government bailouts make it abundantly clear that our markets aren't that "free" after all) just happened to be more efficient than the state-run system the Soviets created in their Marxist pursuit.  It says nothing about the values underlying the two ideologies.  Haig, himself, said that the jury is very much still out on that.


So what exactly are our values today?  What do we stand for?  I don't know.  Do you?  A likely answer might include some of the values enshrined in our Bill of Rights - e.g. the freedom (to do various things).  Everybody remembers values that "give".  It is much less likely that the answer might include Constitutionally enshrined values that involve personal responsibility: e.g. the responsibility to vote - i.e. the responsibility to be involved in the democracy that gives us those freedoms.


Today, the U.S. (and, to a lesser extent, most capitalist economies in the world) has become an economically divided country: the "haves" own more than ever and the "have nots" own less than ever before (the statistic I heard is that 5% of the people own 80+% of all the wealth & property in this country - staggering, isn't it?)  And things are getting worse, rather than better: the politicians who make our laws increasingly ignore the "have nots" - since they don't make campaign "contributions" or have lobbyists wining and dining them or offering high-paying jobs after their political careers are over; the "have-nots" also don't vote much (they're either busy holding down two jobs or are just content to be entertained by TV or the latest techno gadgets - if I were of a paranoid bend (ok, so I am), I might suggest that TV/sports/entertainment/the lottery are a tool of the elite to keep the masses docile).


What is the root cause of these problems?  It's greed.  Although greed is great as a motivator (thus the success of the "free market"), unfettered it can be limitless and, ultimately, lead to corruption.  So, unless you're a communist or socialist, we need to find a balance that takes advantage of the motivating aspects of greed but, at the same time, holds it at bay at the extremes.  How much wealth should a society bestow on a minority without harming the majority - to incentivize the majority to join the minority?  Unfortunately, nobody in the US (and, to a lesser extent, in the rest of the world) seems interested in achieving a healthy balance.


So is the only real value we can demonstrate today greed?


Think about it the next time you admire a baseball player "earning" hundreds of millions of dollars or a CEO who gets a multi-million dollar bonus for "right-sizing" his company; the next time a banker gets rich while getting bailed out with tax payer money; the next time you decide to watch a TV show rather than investigate or vote on the issues facing your government; the next time you hear a politician lie through his teeth to get re-elected.


Think about it.





2 comments:

Denise said...

Thomas,
du solltest Politker oder Philosoph werden. Lieber zweiteres, du willst ja sicher etwas Gutes bewirken! ;)

Think about it.

Liebe Grüße von Denise.

Tom Wolf said...

Hallo Denise, danke fuer den Kommentar. Du bisst jetzt einer meiner wenigen Leser :-)