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The Sixty-Four-Thousand Dollar Question

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Local Rebel
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0 posted 08-16-2004 12:22 AM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

Suppose there are people living on one side of a big city who throw weekly parties so lavish that afterwards they are throwing out meat, while on the other side of the same town are people so poor they cannot afford to buy meat at all. Is this a moral problem?

--Rawls
Midnitesun
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1 posted 08-16-2004 12:37 AM       View Profile for Midnitesun   Email Midnitesun   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Midnitesun

Well, it's definitely a moral crime in my mind, and any unjust system that permits/perpetuates this scenario needs to be brought down. I personally don't eat meat, but since this isn't about meat per se, I have no problem with putting my ten cents worth in. Yes, it is an immoral situation. I don't usually get into these discussions, because morality isn't something you can really legislate. It's wrapped up within a sense of values you grow up understanding as you participate in life each day. It's wrong to stuff your face, then discard the leftovers, when your neighbor is starving. Unless, of course, you discard said spare food (graciously) to that neighbor?
Toerag
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2 posted 08-16-2004 08:05 AM       View Profile for Toerag   Email Toerag   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Toerag

And the sad thing is....while I was standing under their windows as they threw out the filet mignons I was busted for loitering....it just sucks I tell ya..It just sucks!!!
jbouder
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3 posted 08-16-2004 09:46 AM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

quote:
Is this a moral problem?


It might be.  Depends a great deal on specific circumstances.

Jim
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4 posted 08-16-2004 01:28 PM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

Do I actually get $64,000 if I get it right?




This got me to thinking about a section in one of my favorite books--"Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches"--subtitled the Riddles of Culture. It's a fairly tidy discourse on mores of societies, and all those little quirky suburban myths as well.

I quote here from the chapter entitled "Potlatch", the opening paragraph:

"Some of the most puzzling lifestyles on exhibit in the museum of world ethnology bear the imprint of a strange craving known as the 'drive for prestige.' Some people seem to hunger for approval as others hunger for meat. The puzzling thing is not that people hunger for approval, but that occasionally their craving seems to become so powerful that they begin to compete with each other for prestige as others compete for land or protein or sex. Sometimes this competition grows so fierce that it appears to become an end in itself. It then takes on the appearance of an obsession divorced from, and even directly opposed to, rational calculations of material costs."

This got me to thinking about the recent phenomena in pop culture of flaunting the "Bling." Formerly destitute folk, are now in competition with each other as to who has the most prestige as proven by maintaining the largest entourage, the largest gems, all the accoutrement of the "made it" lifestyle.

And yes, I smiled thinking on this, wondering if any of these folks on these "Fabulous lifestyles" shows understood that they were participating in a continuation of a societal phenomenon first described by Ruth Benedict in Patterns of Culture--"potlatch."

Particularly fascinating (well, to me) was a bizarre instance of status seeking among the American Indians along the Western coast, which pretty much sums up "potlatch" in understandable terms.

May I quote again from Marvin Harris?

"Here the status seekers practiced what seems like a maniacal form of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous waste known as potlatch. The object of potlatch was to give away or destroy more wealth than one's rival. If the potlatch giver was a powerful chief, he might attempt to shame his rivals and gain everlasting admiration from his followers by destroying food, clothing, and money. Sometimes he might even seek admiration by burning down his own house."

Hmm. Now I think of a show that stated Brittney Spears is so stinking rich she had a private jet procured for the simple purpose of flying a cup of coffee to her while on tour.

Potlatch?

If you wanna impress me, feed a kid. Put someone through college. Help a family with medical bills.

Shrug.

Don't know what the answer is, Reb, or if this is even close to what you were getting at, but I always say you always make me think, and this happens to be just a smidgeon of what I thought.

If it's a moral problem, Reb, it's been around a very long time.


Ron
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5 posted 08-16-2004 01:30 PM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

I agree with Jim. It depends. But given only the information in this post, it's less of a moral issue than an economic one. The poor people should get a job working for the rich ones. Chances are good that will lead to enough moral issues to keep everyone busy for a good long time.


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6 posted 08-16-2004 05:26 PM       View Profile for Ringo   Email Ringo   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Ringo

It is definately not a good situation... there are, however, too many restaurants to mention that give all of their left overs to shelters, and kitchens and all....
THAT more than makes up for the ones that don't   IMHO

In the wooden chair
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Local Rebel
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7 posted 08-17-2004 12:54 AM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

Kacey has graciously exposed on a position where she thinks this is a moral problem;

"It's wrong to stuff your face, then discard the leftovers, when your neighbor is starving."

Of course, persons of my age while growing up (or perhaps better said persons who's parents grew up in the great depression) often heard 'eat your [blank] there's kid's starving in China.'  How my eating -- liver and onions -- was going to help starving kids in China I still can't fathom.

This goes way beyond leftovers too Kacey  

Toe brings up a rather salient point or two, however flippant he may seem.  A. Where is the dignity in begging for scraps?  B. It's illegal to be indigent.

Glad you came Jim... put on your trunks and dive in -- the water is just right      So, under what conditions WOULD this qualify as a moral problem?

Blazey -- enjoying the potlatch references -- and this;

"This got me to thinking about the recent phenomena in pop culture of flaunting the "Bling." Formerly destitute folk, are now in competition with each other as to who has the most prestige as proven by maintaining the largest entourage, the largest gems, all the accoutrement of the "made it" lifestyle."

is banging right on the door of the topic here -- which is GREED -- more specifics later.

Do a search on John Rawls and his Theory of Justice

Ron -- under what conditions may we separate economics from morality?  and.. why should we?

A work ethic is a moral concern.

In a competitive environment even a person with a strong work ethic can come in second.  Second is a losing position.  We have a winner takes all system.  VHS/Beta.  Bill Gates/Steve Jobs.  

Smithian Economics discounted aristocracy and counted on an egalitarian model of entreprenuerial effort.

What did Bill Gates have that Steve Jobs didn't?  

We keep hearing that Haliburton is getting single sourced because there's no one else that can do the job (um... I think that's called an Anti-Trust violation) -- why not?

Ringo -- what I said to Kacey...

Not a new problem ...no... but, are there new models to consider?  

Thinking is what this thread is about -- and moving beyond typical Smithian Economic clichés.
Kaoru
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8 posted 08-17-2004 01:20 AM       View Profile for Kaoru   Email Kaoru   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Kaoru

Is it a moral problem if I refuse to answer until I see the money?
Midnitesun
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9 posted 08-17-2004 02:04 AM       View Profile for Midnitesun   Email Midnitesun   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Midnitesun

LOL, Reb, I used to BEG my mother to give my food to those starving Chinese kids, not just liver and onions, but also ochra, canned green beans, bologna with velveeta cheese, hot dogs, and a whole lot of other stuff I didn't like. It's true, it is an economic issue, but can you ignore the morals Q when you see the faces of people who are truly hungry? I can't.
anyway, I'll be back to this thread again tomorrow or the next day.

[This message has been edited by Midnitesun (08-17-2004 09:10 AM).]

iliana
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10 posted 08-17-2004 02:23 AM       View Profile for iliana   Email iliana   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for iliana

Suppose there are people living on one side of a big city who throw weekly parties so lavish that afterwards they are throwing out meat, while on the other side of the same town are people so poor they cannot afford to buy meat at all. Is this a moral problem?

--Rawls


Reb, this makes me think, not only of the growing malnourished population in this country, but of another place...the Sudan.  What is going on there is a crime punishable against all mankind, I think.  Yes, a moral crime, for what distinguishes human beings from other species?  Is there nothing...not even our "humanity?"  I don't have any answers for this, but I do know, that if I was rolling in the bucks, I'd be putting it in some mouths right now.  


In a competitive environment even a person with a strong work ethic can come in second.  Second is a losing position.  We have a winner takes all system.  VHS/Beta.  Bill Gates/Steve Jobs.  


This is absolutely true.  My favorite quote before I became self-employed was "yano, the goods ones are always the first to leave."  Workplace corruption exists in every field I have ever been involved in which includes:  college administration, paper mill industry, music industry, steel industry (diversified into other fields and international), legal insurance defense and journalism.  Gee...wonder why I moved around so much?.  But that was then...now I work for myself and can practice good ethics in business; not getting rich, but I believe there will be reward for honesty and good moral conduct in the end.  What is disturbing to me is that the "working" world is getting meaner and more cut-throat every day.  I think they even teach it in college now...lol...how to get ahead by stabbing your competitor in the back; or how to steal trade secrets without getting caught.  I do believe the world we live in today is not the same one your parents and my parents helped each other through in the 30s.  It is a sad truth; even my mother frets on a regular basis about how very cruel our culture is today.  Sorry, didn't mean to run on so much.  Good thought provoker, Reb.

serenity blaze
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11 posted 08-17-2004 06:41 AM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

Reb? Is it possible to move beyond typical Smithian Economic clichés, if I don't know what they are?

I'm not sure if this qualifies, but I wanted to address Ron's reply, and omg, you people are contagious, because I want to address Ron's reply with a QUOTE--snicker, I know, just shoot me NOW.

But at the end of the chapter expounding on potlatch, my boy Marvin sums up the reciprocal notion of simple economics with this:

"...the replacement of reciprocity by competitive status seeking made it possible for larger human populations to survive and prosper in a given region. One might very well wish to question the sanity of the whole process by which mankind was tricked and cajoled into working harder in order to feed more people at substantially the same or even lower levels of material well-being than that enjoyed by people like the Eskimo or Bushmen. The only asnwer that I see to such a challenge is that many primitive societies refused to expand their productive effort and failed to increase their population density precisely because they discovered that the new "labor-saving" technologies actually meant that they would have to work harder as well as suffer a loss in living standards. But the fate of these primitive people was sealed as soon as any one of them--no matter how remotely situated--crossed the threshold to redistribution and the full scale stratification of classes that lay beyond. Virtually all of the reciprocity-type hunters and gatherers were destroyed or forced into remote areas by bigger and more powerful societies that maximized production and population and that were organized by governing classes. (food for thought?) At bottom, this replacement was essentially a matter of the ability of larger, denser, and better-organized societies to defeat simple hunters and gathereres in armed conflict. It was hard work or perish."

Downright chilling, that is, considering...

(I'm curious to see where you're going with this...in fact, I'm curious to see where I'm going with it now!)

  

But as always, I'm enjoying the journey.  


Brad
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12 posted 08-17-2004 12:43 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Serenity,

So?
jbouder
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13 posted 08-17-2004 03:12 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

First, we need to consider what we know:

FACTS

1. There are lavishly wealthy people on one side of the city who can afford to waste their commodities.

2. There are very poor people on the other side of the city who can barely afford to sustain themselves.

ASSUMPTIONS

1. The lavishly wealthy are not sharing their relative prosperity or abundant supply of food with the needy.

2. (Maybe) The poor lack the resources to generate the prosperity enjoyed by their "uptown" neighbors (i.e., they need help).

The most obvious prerequisite to this being a moral problem for the lavishly wealthy is the agent's power to perform or not perform what is necessary to prevent those on the other side of the city from starving.  I think cold-war Berlin presents a good example of those on one side of the city living in relative prosperity while those living on the other side lived in relative poverty and oppression.  There was little the West Berliners could practicably do to bring relief to the East Berliners.  In such a case, there were other conditions preventing the relatively wealthy from coming to the aid of those in need, and most (I think) would agree that the intervening circumstances would make it difficult to consider any inaction on the part of the West Berliners immoral.

I do find it interesting that, when it comes to sharing wealth and food with the poor and hungry, those who have an abundance of wealth and food are almost universally expected to provide relief to those in need (I happen to think stewardship of time, treasure and talent to promote charitable causes is something we all ought to strive for).  Shift the analogy from food to freedom for a moment:

Suppose there are people living on one side of a big city who enjoy great freedom, the legal protections of due process, and a powerful military to keep its borders safe from invaders to the extent that its citizens often take the protections of their inherent human dignity for granted.  On the other side of the same town are people so greatly persecuted and oppressed by a tyranous leader, that they cannot speak freely, have no assurance of a fair trial, or live without fear of the torture and summary executions of their loved ones. Is this a moral problem?

Jim
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14 posted 08-17-2004 04:48 PM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

Sooooo Brad, my point was merely that Ron's solution hasn't proven to be a solution in the large scale.
Local Rebel
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15 posted 08-17-2004 08:48 PM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

Well let's start with the basics then Blazey;

quote:

The individual who comes closest to being the originator of contemporary capitalism is the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, who first set forth the essential economic principles that undergird this system. In his classic An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), Smith sought to show how it was possible to pursue private gain in ways that would further not just the interests of the individual but those of society as a whole. Society's interests are met by maximum production of the things that people want. In a now famous phrase, Smith said that the combination of self-interest, private property, and competition among sellers in markets will lead producers “as by an invisible hand” to an end that they did not intend, namely, the well-being of society.

II  Characteristics of Capitalism
Print Preview of Section

Throughout its history, but especially during its ascendency in the 19th century, capitalism has had certain key characteristics. First, basic production facilities—land and capital—are privately owned. Capital in this sense means the buildings, machines, and other equipment used to produce goods and services that are ultimately consumed. Second, economic activity is organized and coordinated through the interaction of buyers and sellers (or producers) in markets. Third, owners of land and capital as well as the workers they employ are free to pursue their own self-interests in seeking maximum gain from the use of their resources and labor in production. Consumers are free to spend their incomes in ways that they believe will yield the greatest satisfaction. This principle, called consumer sovereignty, reflects the idea that under capitalism producers will be forced by competition to use their resources in ways that will best satisfy the wants of consumers. Self-interest and the pursuit of gain lead them to do this. Fourth, under this system a minimum of government supervision is required; if competition is present, economic activity will be self-regulating. Government will be necessary only to protect society from foreign attack, uphold the rights of private property, and guarantee contracts. This 19th-century view of government's role in the capitalist system was significantly modified by ideas and events of the 20th century.



from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761576596/Capitalism.html#p3

quote:

Smith's Wealth of Nations represents the first serious attempt in the history of economic thought to divorce the study of political economy from the related fields of political science, ethics, and jurisprudence. It embodies a penetrating analysis of the processes whereby economic wealth is produced and distributed and demonstrates that the fundamental sources of all income, that is, the basic forms in which wealth is distributed, are rent, wages, and profits.

The central thesis of The Wealth of Nations is that capital is best employed for the production and distribution of wealth under conditions of governmental noninterference, or laissez-faire, and free trade. In Smith's view, the production and exchange of goods can be stimulated, and a consequent rise in the general standard of living attained, only through the efficient operations of private industrial and commercial entrepreneurs acting with a minimum of regulation and control by governments. To explain this concept of government maintaining a laissez-faire attitude toward commercial endeavors, Smith proclaimed the principle of the “invisible hand”: Every individual in pursuing his or her own good is led, as if by an invisible hand, to achieve the best good for all. Therefore any interference with free competition by government is almost certain to be injurious.

Although this view has undergone considerable modification by economists in the light of historical developments since Smith's time, many sections of The Wealth of Nations, notably those relating to the sources of income and the nature of capital, have continued to form the basis for theoretical study in the field of political economy. The Wealth of Nations has also served, perhaps more than any other single work in its field, as a guide to the formulation of governmental economic policies.



http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761556047/Smith_Adam_(economist).html

And it is the Smithean policies that are so fondly mis-attributed to Jefferson by the ignorance that is Rush Limbuagh (and other conservatives).

When many are thinking founding fathers -- they just don't know what the influence of Smith was.

Jefferson was interested in some very different ideas that were influenced by his time spent in France.  But we'll get to that later...

Jim -- Excellent post     You're right to jump to the topic of freedom.  I'll return later with more feedback.

Kacey !   I got a box one time and put my dinner in it -- I asked my mother where I could send it to.  She was not amused.

Brad... cat got your fingers?

Meg nice to have ya

Illiana -- read this for now: http://www.fortune.com/fortune/subs/article/0,15114,369301,00.html

of course -- anybody else can too...


serenity blaze
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16 posted 08-17-2004 09:39 PM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

sigh.

I'll give it a shot, Reb.

But isn't there like a Junior Reader for this stuff?

sheesh!



But okay, I have it bookmarked and I'll give it a try. I have to re-write this sort of thing in order for it to make sense and that only works sometimes.

but thanks!
iliana
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17 posted 08-18-2004 01:29 AM       View Profile for iliana   Email iliana   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for iliana

Reb -- cancel that email.  I went ahead and subscribed....figured it wouldn't hurt me to read a little more.  The following caught my attention:  

"Of course, no serious person would argue that everyone should get the same-sized piece of the economic pie. That would be unfair to those who work hard, as opposed to those who watch reruns of Gilligan's Island all day. "

No, I wouldn't argue that....but I would argue that the OPPORTUNITY for that should exist.  This was the belief I grew up with and firmly believe...that we should all have an equal chance.  Education or skill, self-motivation, and opportunity are the factors one needs to accomplish that if they are not born into a drawer of silver spoons.  All three of those factors are disappearing in our culture.  Our young people today are very technologically savy, but many of them cannot even write in cursive!  More and more of this generation believe they are owed a living and are not self-motivated.  And, opportunities...well, I always believed we make our own opportunity...but I don't see that attitude among people in their late teens or 20s, like I did 30 years ago.  My belief is that our whole culture has changed drastically.  Are economics the source of this?  I think so to a degree.  One example is advertising -- selling the 'bad boy,' 'bad girl' idea or the sensuality of hair shampoo, etc.  Our sports heros .... well, what can be said of that... "It doesn't matter what you do as long as you show me the money!"  That all was to address motivation.  Now, opportunity -- there are opportunities still out there, I'm a good example of that (but hey, it only took me 25 years to get here and now I certainly do not have the drive I had back then).  Women in business are still hitting glass ceilings even though there is greater opportunity in some businesses than there used to be.  Affirmative action has certainly helped in many ways for minorities, but in some cases, disadvantaged the non-minority.  And, will it in the end provide motivation, or will it help to promote the idea that "I'm entitled?"  I don't have any real answers...just rambling.    
Ron
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18 posted 08-18-2004 02:33 AM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

quote:
Ron -- under what conditions may we separate economics from morality?  and.. why should we?

A work ethic is a moral concern.

I think ethics and morality are two very different things, Reb, and what we generally mean by "work ethic" really doesn't fall under either umbrella. Being willing to give an honest day's labor for an honest day's pay doesn't necessarily make someone either ethical or moral. It simply makes them a desirable (and increasingly rare) economic resource. The differences between ethics and morality, however, is probably best reserved for another thread.

Economics and morality need to be separated for the same reasons I believe politics and morality need to be separated. Economics and politics are social issues, both of which must be made to work in a diverse moral landscape. It's a macro versus micro set of issues, because morality is personal, not social. If we are to live together, it won't be by homogenizing our individual morality, but rather by effectively ignoring the differences within our social institutions.

quote:
In a competitive environment even a person with a strong work ethic can come in second.  Second is a losing position.  We have a winner takes all system.  VHS/Beta.  Bill Gates/Steve Jobs.

I think that's only true, Reb, in a non-Smithean system. Steve Jobs may have lost to Bill Gates (if you call being a multi-millionaire instead of a multi-billionaire losing), but there are also tens of thousands, and probably more like thousands of thousands, of people riding the coattails of Gate's victory. Everyone who works for Microsoft wins, too. Everyone who supplies Microsoft wins. Everyone who owns stock in Microsoft wins. Everyone who supplies the workers or vendors or stockholders of Microsoft wins. And that doesn't even begin to count the huge number of people who buy Microsoft products and use them to make money otherwise independent of the money chain that began with Gates.

The winner definitely does NOT take all, but rather spreads the wealth throughout the whole of society.

quote:
Shift the analogy from food to freedom for a moment:

I'm not sure that's a fair shift, Jim, because I don't think any society in all of history has had to buy a measure of freedom. Fight for it, sure, work like Hades to maintain it, absolutely, but freedom simply isn't a commodity item that can be bought or sold. Freedom exists and only needs to be claimed. A standard of living, on the other hand, is something that must be earned.

quote:
Sooooo Brad, my point was merely that Ron's solution hasn't proven to be a solution in the large scale.

Sadly, no, it hasn't, Karen. The question I think we should be asking, however, and one I alluded to when I said it would quickly become a moral issue when the have-nots on one side of the city tried to work for the have-alls on the other side of the city, is WHY it hasn't worked on a large scale.

Money, it's often said, doesn't grow on trees. It requires an expenditure of resources, and the only way the money will stay on only one side of the city is if the rich purposely prevent it from leaving. In the absence of artificial barriers, at least some of the money, and usually a great portion of it, will spread throughout the whole economic system. The rich need their lawns mowed, their commodes cleaned, their food cooked, their dogs walked and their babies sat. The poor will survive, and a few of the more industrious poor will organize other poors so well they will end up eventually moving to the other side of the city. In a pure economic system it's as inevitable as day following night.

Trouble is, on the large scale Karen sites, there has never been a pure economic system.

The rich always try to raise artificial barriers to protect their wealth. THAT, I think, is when we enter the arena of what is right and wrong (avoiding the more personal issues of morality). In my opinion, there is nothing immoral about being fat and sassy while others are going to bed hungry. Buying less food at the grocery store isn't going to help feed the poor, it's only going to add some farmer to the list of the poor because you refused to buy his produce. On the other hand, being fat and sassy and wasteful is intrinsically wrong if you are simultaneously preventing others from enjoying at least the opportunity to share in the wealth.

Let's extend Reb's question just a bit.

Let's pretend the city is a really big one comprising most of North America, the rich on one side, poor on the other, and running down the middle of our hypothetical city is a river called the Rio Grande.

If you REALLY want to help the poor, you should advocate lowering all the artificial barriers that have been erected to keep them out of the rich side of the city. Let them cross the river, with no qualifications beyond desire, and let them work for the same living that you and I have enjoyed. They can succeed or fail based entirely on merit, not on rules erected to protect the wealthy. If we lower the barriers, the money WILL flow throughout the combined economic community. Guaranteed.

I think in ANY community of have-nots and have-alls, you'll find a river running down the middle of the city. It might not be called the Rio Grande, of course. It might be called education, it might be a union, it might be gender or race, it might be language or culture. The one thing it always has in common, however, is that it's artificial and always serves to protect the wealthy.

Capitalism works. We just usually won't let it work too well.


serenity blaze
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19 posted 08-18-2004 04:59 AM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

Thanks Ron, as I have been sitting here (well actually over THERE) wondering why it doesn't work. I could only come to the sad conclusion that greed and the underlying insecurity of the individual would always be destined to manifest itself in the macro.. Which led me to wondering more, but I want to try to plod through some reading so I'm better able to follow Reb's point. But I appreciate your taking the time. You remind me of a favorite professor, yanno. He always broke things down for me into these cool little analogies too. And he did it in such a way that I didn't feel like a dummy for asking. I really appreciate that.

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20 posted 08-18-2004 09:25 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Ron,

How are "ethics" and "morals" as different as you say?

If you call one macro and the other micro, one societal and the other individual, that's just a difference of scope isn't it?


You seem (to me) to be confusing morality with something more like holiness or righteousness.


Stephen


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21 posted 08-18-2004 12:39 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Serenity:

quote:
I could only come to the sad conclusion that greed and the underlying insecurity of the individual would always be destined to manifest itself in the macro.


This is an excellent point, and is illustrative of why the extreme laissez faire approach often fails to result in thriving, competitive markets when a relatively small number of market participants corner a disproportionate share of market power.  I think this problem is remedied by a combination of regulation and governmental assurance that the interests of the average consumer are well represented.  If done right, businesses can continue making profits and consumers can enjoy lower prices that result from retail competition.

Ron:

I don't think the jump from poverty to freedom is as big of a jump as you are making it, as they both deal fundamentally with questions of justice.  While, admittedly, "freedom" is an intangible while food is not, freedom is certainly something useful that can be turned to commercial or other advantage.  Perhaps your definition of "commodity" is too narrow?  

Besides, you seem to be making my argument for me ... we work like Hades to maintain freedom ... we work like Hades to maintain our desired standard of living.  

Ron & Stephen:

On the morals v. ethics issue, I think drawing too sharp a distinction between them leads to unnecessary confusion.  Morality is discriptive of behavior as measured against a certain standard.  Ethics are the codification of those standards.  The concepts are more related than they are at odds.

Hawke:

I'm glad you brough up Rawl's Economic Theory of Justice.  Can't help but to see how it has been applied as a matter of policy (ADA, IDEA, The Rehabilitation Act, Medicaid, etc., etc., etc.).  In my opinion, Rawls brought much intellectual credibility to emotionally charged issues driving the civil rights movement.

Jim
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22 posted 08-19-2004 11:59 PM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

My sincere regrets people... I'll get back to this manyana... really!  

Great talking points -- I appreciate it very much.  

(feel free to plod on ahead -- I'll catch up)
Brad
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23 posted 08-20-2004 11:23 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Of course, it's a moral issue. If you had four family members sitting at the same table, two eating until their heart's content and throwing the left overs out the window, while the other two stared at them hungry, is anybody going to argue that this isn't a moral dilemma?

What if the hungry are infants?

Or disabled?

What would be the right thing to do?

Why sidestep the moral issue?

Okay, I'm sidestepping the economic one

But only for a moment.
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24 posted 08-21-2004 12:08 AM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

Ron,

Works is a good word to use in conjunction with Capitalism.  A blender works.  Sure.  An automobile -- that works too.  You get in, drive, and get to where you're going.  Point A to Point B.  But sometimes there are unintentional side effects that can result in serious bodily harm and even death.  If you have a race between two cars the odds of that might go up -- but, we know -- absolutely that a deliberate effect of the race is that one car and driver will lose.  It is an intentional effect of the race to create a winner, and a loser.  It isn't by coincidence.

That's what a competition is.

So, while it is very true that in a nation of very ambitious, work-ethical people that wealth has been created -- we can't negate the connection between extremes of wealth and poverty -- not only on this side of the Rio Grande, but throughout the world.  The rich get richer, the poor get poorer.  It isn't artificial barriers that cause this to happen -- it is the absolute design and function of capitalism.  A lesson we all learned around the Parker Brother's Monopoly board.  

By the end of the 19th Century Smith's invisible hand was very visibly AWOL with wealth accumulating in the hands of a very few.  By the time the great depression hit it was clear that even the Anti-Trust act was too little too late.  Smith's ideology was granted a very fair shake.  What shook out were a few very rich people and a whole lot of not-so-rich people.

So we modified capitalism.  Government took on an expanded role -- both in the area of regulating commerce and in providing a modicum of a social net to catch people when the tides of capitalism rolled in and out.  

Even now, by design, with our engineered monetary policy -- the Fed recognizes that 'full-employment' is a bad thing -- because it's inflationary.  Even the 4% unemployment figures they thought was a good number in the Sixties was too low.  They now know that if you don't have at least about 5% of the people out of work and facing trauma -- the Economy heats up -- and value is lost.  (Now, this could qualify as one of those artificial barriers you refer to -- but it serves the greater good of keeping inflation in check -- right?)

So, the question isn't whether or not Capitalism 'works' -- it is - whether or not it is moral to have a system that intentionally, by design, creates poor people?  

The promise of Smith was that the rising tide floats all boats -- but it doesn't.  Bill Gates and his associates benefit -- others lose.  Sure -- Jobs keeps a bundle -- but he still lost the game (Gate's board of directors never conspired to have him fired and replaced) and the people who's hopes and ambitions were riding his coattails lost investments and careers -- if he hadn't given up going after the same market he'd be gone now.  IPOD and a few die-hard artistically inclined users have given them a niche market.  It's to Gate's advantage too.  In his current position if it wasn't for Anti-Trust legislation he could squash them like a bug.  But he needs a few token competitors to keep himself from getting busted up.

The other effect of the concentration of wealth is that it crushes one of the other promises of Smith -- that competition benefits society in it's assurance of better products and services.  The reason I chose Mac and Beta as examples is because it is a clear example of that failure. The better products were there -- but, as marketing gurus Ries and Trout point out in all their books -- the guy with the most money always wins.  Gates had the power and leverage of IBM -- it was IBM's ignorance and arrogance that allowed him to slip away with the dough.

And the tertiary and most precipitous effect of wealth concentration is that it severely impacts democracy.    

The American idea of freedom is embodied in the ideals of autonomy and mobility.  To that end it is the American dream that if we engage the system, get educated, work hard -- we will receive the reward of both.  Financial security means that no one can tell us what to do or where to go.  But for millions of people this simply doesn't happen.  They work hard and get screwed out of their pensions.  They try to engage the system but get shut out.  Some simply can't find the system at all.  

Then, there are those who do achieve -- at least in the respect of attaining financial security - and then become more disillusioned.  'Is this all there is?'  Rugged Individualism shuts us off from trust.  From connectedness.  Our incomes may be up -- but is our quality of life?  Do people really have a deathbed wish for one more day at the office?  One more stock market deal?  Or one more day of being connected to someone?

John Wayne and Clint Eastwood make good Hollywood icons because the manifest the rugged American individual -- but -- we too often forget that even John Wayne and Clint Eastwood aren't John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

There are three suicides in America now for every two murders.  We consume sports and entertainment because while we're watching we don't have to think.  In order to think we have to take Prozac or Ritalin.  Anxiety is rampant.  Depression is rampant.  Because the tacit assumption in a 'free', capitalist society is that we get what we deserve.  And most of us don't get, much.  Compared to the bling.

Capitalism works.  But, is it moral?

There were a few maquiladora plants just over the border in Mexico for which I had some responsibility.  Young girls would come to work there dressed in their finest clothes -- and the exhibited exemplary work ethic.  They were happy to have any job.  Some of them lived right outside the plant in abandoned rail cars.  They were the lucky ones.  It was a great deal for the company because they were so cheap.  

It was capitalism working.  Labor and markets shift to the low cost producers.  But was it moral to take the jobs away from people who had been doing them here?  People who had good work ethics, who were fulfilling their obligation to the company?  Just because there was a cheaper wage across the border?  Did the company not owe anything at all to the people who were making it successful?  Was the weekly wage the extent of the moral obligation?

Was it moral to move the jobs from the maquiladoras across that great big river and put plants in mainland China where the people had even less than the Mexicans and were willing to work for even less?

Is it moral for a ten-year-old to be MAKING Barbie-Dolls that she can never even hope to have enough money to buy -- so that my daughter can go to Wal-Mart and buy one for less?

Capitalism works -- but is it moral?  

I'll return with more commentary for all this weekend.. thanks again for everyone's participation.
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