The times are troubling. We have a very polarizing president here in the USA, as you may be aware. He has capitalized on a deep feeling of unfairness that lives in many hearts. In so doing, he has picked up a following, not just of people who feel under-served by society, but also a cadre of racists, would-be nazis, and such. We’re seeing some very troubling demonstrations and worse.
Similar things are happening elsewhere, in Britain, in Germany, elsewhere in Europe. Things in the Middle East are terrible and getting seem to be getting worse. And don’t even mention North Korea.
I have no answers for the world, or probably even for the US. I’m going to try to talk a bit here about the US, even so.
At the national level, both houses of Congress, and the Presidency, are in the hands of the GOP. It seems almost certain that the Supreme Court will lean that way as well. This makes me think that the tax-funded support systems, and laws aimed at “social justice” that are now in place will not be strengthened, but instead will be weakened.
Voting out the GOP might help, and we can hope that the upcoming mid-term elections will help swing the balance a bit. But that will be only a bit, and might not happen. Suppose the Democrats did win the Senate and House, which seems unlikely. The best we could hope for appears to be that they might then force-pass some unilateral legislation, which might not be signed by a hostile president. It’s unlikely that they could have enough of a majority to override a veto. So I’m not looking for the 2018 election to improve things. Frankly, I think they have a better chance at the 2020 presidency, assuming there’s an election, and assuming they have the sense to run a candidate who can actually win.
And if they did win, they still face blocks in Congress.
My – what’s a word for something between fear and belief, anyway? – my concern is that we’re in for years of deadlock in government.
What’s more concerning is that, in my view, the Democrats don’t get it either. They seem to want to pass laws about how to be civil, to give away money to solve social problems, and they’re nearly as bad as the GOP in terms of making sure the other guys can’t win.
If the years have taught me anything, it is that ensuring that the other guys can’t win isn’t good for the product. The product, in this case, is the world we live in.
So I’m not optimistic about government addressing the real concerns that are out here in the country. There’s a lack of meaningful work. Things are bad for people of color, but they aren’t much better for people of … non-color. There are no decent jobs for anyone. Stores are closing, wages are low, and there’s no sense that if you just work hard you can have a decent life.
Fact is, for many folks out here in the middle of the country, working hard will not get you a decent life. I’m not saying it’s a majority of people, but it’s plenty enough to keep people unhappy and to elect the candidates that make promises they have no intention of keeping, and promises that, if they did keep them, would make people’s lives worse.
It’s even worse for the huge population of people of color in our cities. If you’re of age, you can’t find work. If you’re a kid, you can’t get a decent education, and if you did you probably still can’t find work. And, while not every black person pulled over for DWB gets shot or beat up, enough do to make any black person feel fed up to here.
And things aren’t good for women, either. It’s not good for LGBTQ people. Mostly it’s not good for anyone who isn’t a white man. More accurately, a white, educated man. Things aren’t good for the poorer white man, the man whose skills run more toward digging for coal or operating machinery that’s no longer in use. I’m not here to choose between color or white, male or female, gay or straight, or any other dichotomy you might want to name. Point is, while there is good in the world, it’s far from uniformly distributed and people rightly feel that it isn’t fair.
I’m reminded of one of comedian Chris Rock’s lines: “None of you would change places with me! And I’m rich! That’s how good it is to be white!” He’s got that right, in my opinion. I, for one, would not want to be black in this country, or in most of this world.
Now at the same time, many whites feel threatened by anything that seems to favor people of color over them. Affirmative action, DACA, not having a wall between us and Mexico … these things threaten the poorer white person’s already slim chance of getting ahead. And, unfortunately, those things probably really do threaten the poorer whites. If there’s a job out there, and a person of color gets it, well, that’s a white person who didn’t get it. So long as we think in terms of zero sum, that’s how it will be.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be zero sum. We could conceivably create so much opportunity that the country, and the world, would become so hungry for people to help that every person of every shade could have a decent job, and a decent income, right where they live. And, of course, we don’t really know how to do that, nor do we have the will to do it. We wait for someone else to do it, presumably the government. But that ship has sailed. Government is unlikely to help over the next half dozen years, and if they did, whatever they put in place will get rolled back next time the power shifts. Both sides are more interested in getting re-elected, and in blocking the other guy, than in really working to solve the problems of the world.
There are some good signs. There are many good people in the world, even good white males, who see that things aren’t fair and want them to be more fair. (I suppose we don’t want them to be so fair that we lose out, but, face it, things could be a lot more fair before that happened.) The point is, there are people of good heart who want things to be better. Lots of people. Enough people to swing elections back and forth every couple of cycles. The thing is, swinging the elections back and forth is mostly useless, because the people in the business of being politicians aren’t able to solve the problems. Decades from now, we might have a new generation of politicians who could solve the problems, but I’m in a hurry and I want something now.
To solve these problems will take smart people, and lots of work. Most of all, it will take money. When bank robber Willie Sutton was asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, he’s said to have replied “Because that’s where the money is.”
Where is the money today? It’s in two places. It’s in the hands of the rich, and in the hands of corporations. Up until now, one “answer” has been to tax the rich and tax the corporations, and then use the taxes for society’s good. Yes, well, my thesis here is that that cannot work.
First of all, at least half the time, government is going to reduce taxes on those people, because we believe in “trickle-down” in this country. Well, “trickle” certainly seems to be the right word. So a government program, even if a good one could be voted in, will be in trouble. Look at all the time the GOP has spent trying to “repeal and replace” the ACA. There are plenty of problems with ACA, and with half the effort to improve it, they could have declared victory and made people’s lives better. But no! They focus so much on beating out the black guy’s health care act that they get nothing done. And if they did get something done, it would be bad for the country.
And, of course, ACA was jammed down the throats of the GOP the last time the Dems had power. So that’s guaranteed to piss them off, and guaranteed to get them to want to tear it down.
There’s no winning to be had this way. I figure we’re in for many cycles of Democrats and Republicans fighting to our detriment, so I foresee no early solution coming from government. I’d like to be wrong, but that’s how I’d bet. So what can be done?
Good people doing good things
I’d like to see more individual action. Once we come to the realization that the government isn’t going to use our taxes as we’d like to see them used, we as individuals might be able to direct a little excess money, if we have it, to helping people who need it. And with a little more awareness of the need to do this, I figure folks might kick in a little more. I recall that Black Girls Code turned down a donation of $125,000 from Uber because their CEO felt Uber was “insincere”, among other reasons. The organization received over $150,000 in new donations within a couple of days after this word came out, including one from me. (Black Girls Code is one of my favorite organizations to help anyway.)
This event suggests that when people of good will become aware of a need, they’ll step in with support. So I am hopeful that one leg of improving things could be better-organized and more active individual support of those in need.
Needs could be particularly well-supported by the very rich. We see the kind of work that the Gates Foundation does, or that Warren Buffet does, or that many others do. And those foundations get funds from individuals and from corporations. Heck, rapper Pitbull sent his private plane to move cancer patients to the US for treatment they can no longer get in Puerto Rico due to the hurricane.
Good people doing good things is probably more sustainable than our present waffling and in-fighting government.
Corporations doing the right thing
Corporations, with the support of their boards and shareholders, could do more as well. It would make perfect sense for Apple and Microsoft and innumerable other software companies to support Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code and to support learning institutions all the way down to under-funded city grade schools, because they need good people. It makes sense for corporations to see that their people have decent health care, and it’s not much of a reach to support decent health care everywhere.
Corporations like McDonalds don’t have to pay at the minimum wage just because they can get away with it. Henry Ford paid his workers enough so that they could afford to live well enough to buy a Ford. Mickey-D could pay their people enough so they, too, could afford to live well enough. Mickey-D would be supporting the community that feeds them, and much of the money would come back. Certainly it would come back into the economy.
It’s worth noting that for people down toward the low end of income, every dollar they get goes back into the economy. They buy food and fuel, they pay rent or make house or car payments. They don’t have much room to save, so they spend every dollar. I’m not very close to the high end of pay, especially now that I hardly ever do any work, but my income does not go so directly back into my local economy. It goes to savings, and into the stock market. Maybe once in a while I pay a commission to a car salesman. I don’t know whether I wind up putting more actual dollars into Pinckney than the lady who works at Wendy’s, but on a percentage basis I’m sure she’s ahead of me. Corporations supporting low-paid people are supporting the community they are in.
Today, publicly held corporations are highly driven by earnings per share. They’re trying to keep their stock price up. But why? They don’t get more money when I sell my shares at a profit. In principle, they can invest their stores of cash in any way that makes sense. Investing in society, it seems to me, could make sense.
Those who care … do good things
There are plenty of people who care about these issues and who would like to see more money spent making improvements. I believe that if we could get those folks a bit more focused on actually doing what needs to be done, we might be able to supply more continuous support for the ideas that matter to us. And those of us who operate companies with vast stores of money could, within reason, apply those funds to advance both society and the company.
I don’t know exactly how to do it, but this thinking gives me hope that it’s possible. It’s got to be better than fear, hatred, and ineffective government. I look forward to getting on board with ideas and actions like these as they become available.