The Economic Role of Government

The issue of the economic role of government in a country is huge. Particularly if you are American or European, this topic is so heavily discussed that if it wasn’t of such grave importance to so many people, it would have reached overkill status long ago.

 Strangely, it’s not something politicians are keen on talking about during a recession. If someone outside of the U.S. were to observe the U.S. presidential race, they would understandably surmise that the most pressing issues in that country are birth control, abortion, and the religious views of individual politicians. These topics are hashed and rehashed amidst crippling uncertainty and even despair over economic conditions.

Millions of people cry out for the government to do something. Cut taxes! Raise taxes! Take money from the rich, give it to the poor! Raise the debt ceiling, expand social programs! Cut social programs, offer business tax incentives! Stop immigration! Increase immigration! Invade a resource-rich country!!! Wait. Really? Oh yes.

Where the hell do we even begin sorting this issue?

The first step: be wary of your government’s willingness and ability to fix these complex problems by itself. As we have established and as any observant person can see, politics has become about politicians and their cronies making themselves rich and powerful. Sure, they respond to the pleas of the people, but in obtuse and useless ways, ways that only serve to pacify any unrest--and that simply cannot last, which might be another matter.

 This doesn’t mean that, ideally, governments would keep completely out of economics in some sort of capitalist free-for-all. There is a place for government intervention. Obviously, enterprising market-centered and power-centered businesspeople will go as far as possible to make more money, acquire more power and in their quest, create monopolies, treat employees unfairly, damage the environment, or any number of things that are detrimental to society.

However, it is important that, in our haste to create a fair and balanced society, we do not forget that, first and foremost, business, enterprise, entrepreneurship, consumption, and production are important and need to be free (within broad limits) to grow and thrive. The foremost economic role of government is to encourage that.

Government is not many things we think it should or would like it to be, but one thing it is, is power. When things get economically out of control, only a government has the clout to step into the path of other powerful entities like large corporations and do things like: enforce the honoring of contracts, break up monopolies, shut down Ponzi schemes, prosecute powerful and corrupt people and groups, and redistribute wealth.

Unfortunately, government so easily becomes intertwined with other powerful entities. Examples of this abound, from the regulated becoming the regulators to vested interests like weapons manufacturers or private prison companies influencing public policy in their own interest to politicians passing laws that allow them, and only them, to participate in ethically questionable investment practices.

 When issues like this get out of hand, governments and societies will eventually consume themselves, production and consumption (the economy) slows, and things ultimately fall apart paving the way for a new stage in social development.

 Besides the government, a certain type of person--cause centered--can play a valuable role in encouraging economic prosperity. Valuing hard work, enterprise, innovation, and creativity need to be encouraged, glorified, and even indoctrinated into any successful society. In the U.S., we lament the demise of “The American Way,” in favor of a widespread sense of entitlement. Promoters of this “American Way” would make it their cause to instill in a new generation how poisonous entitlement can be to society and how powerful self-reliance and hard work really are.

Think about it. It’s the only way. Work hard, learn, get an education. Nothing comes from waiting for success except more waiting. Luck helps those who help themselves. The Lord loves a workin’ man. I’ve got a thousand platitudes that apply to how individuals can interact for benefit in their economies. And the running theme is, it’s up to you.

See a continuation of this blog here

Materialistic vs. Idealistic, Community vs. Power

Everybody wants something. And we all know that to get what we want, we have to deal with other people. Often what we want conflicts with what other people want. Why don’t we see eye to eye? That’s easy. We’re different! But how is another matter.

Last week, we talked about dealing with the differences between us and that handling those differences properly will be an important characteristic of the 21st century Enlightenment.

But it was mainly in terms of inter-cultural, racial, and religious differences and these are not the only things that define peoples and individuals. To think so superficially would be the equivalent of assuming that every white Christian American or Chinese Buddhist handles the world exactly the same--this not the case.

What people want varies from individual to individual. Everyone values different things and interacts with others in a certain way to get it.

 I am going to describe some friends of mine, what they want, and how they go about getting it. Think about those you know who seem similar.

I have one friend who is his own little enterprising whirlwind. It’s extreme. He’s the modern version of a snake oil salesman. He travels the world, doing whatever he thinks will make him money from getting clothing made in Indonesia and selling it in the U.S., but I’m not too sure how closely he looks at the conditions of those workshops. He participates in certain illegal activities--not because of any anti-social tendencies, but because they are highly profitable. He’s always striking a deal with someone, but he rarely spends money. He’s market centered and his kind is necessary for creating wealth in society.

Conversely, there is this group of folks I know. They’ve taken it upon themselves to dramatically alter society. In fact, they’ve been camping on a piece of grass down by the capitol building in my city since November--all through the winter--trying to make the statement that our government has been co-opted by big business interests. It’s quite impressive the lengths they will go to be heard and their dedication to their cause is unquestionable. They’re cause centered and their kind highlights the importance of activities and issues that might otherwise be neglected.

 Imagine an encounter between my market-centered friend and one of my cause centered friends. One might say:

 “You’re so materialistic. All you care about is money and you don’t care how you get it.”

 The other would reply: “You’re the ridiculous opposite of materialistic.” (Which they would take as a compliment.) “Get a job. You don’t contribute anything to society. You just complain and moan about injustice and how life isn’t fair.”

But that’s not all.

My father, fairly recently, became a judge. He spent the bulk of his career, before being appointed, as a lawyer, taking pro bono cases and letting people off the hook who couldn’t pay him for his services--much to the chagrin of my mother (who is a bit of a market-centered person).

 He is a highly educated and kind man who has spent his life in the pursuit of social harmony. He values the ideals of democracy, he is fair, and he does what he can to help those he comes across. He is community centered and his kind is needed to insert concern in an often indifferent world.

But my father doesn’t get along with everyone. As a person in a government position, he is frequently in contact with local politicians, whose main objective is to control the world around them (in often small and ridiculous ways) but to be in control nevertheless. As a result, my father finds that he is asked to enforce laws that he feels are counter to what he considers just and right. He doesn’t get angry or protest (as a cause centered person might), he simply does not enforce them and the power centered politicians hate him for it.

People are all oriented towards one or two mentalities. Certain mentalities clash--much like my market and cause centered friends would or my community centered father and his power centered political counterparts.

If we understand who we are personally and who we’re dealing with in any given interaction, it can help to smoothen interacting for benefit--and this is very much a part of the 21st Century Enlightenment that I go on and on about.

Mohamed El-Erian and the 21st Century Enlightenment

It’s a topsy-turvy world when billionaire bankers are supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially considering their primary target is billionaire bankers.

As manager of one of the largest bond investment companies in the world, Mohamed El-Erian has frequently been known to say things like:

“A peaceful drive for greater social justice can unify people from diverse cultural backgrounds, political affiliations, religions, and social classes.”


“It is important to understand OWS better and engage it appropriately.”

I’m sure this guy isn’t making many friends with his elitist colleagues whose rather posh livelihoods are inextricably wrapped-up in the status quo of global economics and finance, the very status quo groups like OWS would like to deconstruct. What could possibly be going on? Why does this seem so counter-intuitive?

My theory is that El-Erian is among a group of people participating in a new way of thinking, a way of interacting for benefit. Here at the THEE online project, we’re calling this 21st Century Enlightenment thinking. Here’s why:

• El-Erian and other 21C Enlightenment thinkers realize that the world is quickly shrinking, bringing the endlessly diverse cultures, societies, and peoples of the world ever closer together. For any one individual or any society to succeed, an understanding of the perspectives of the other will be crucial.

• To understand a particular viewpoint and engage it appropriately is a hallmark of 21C Enlightenment thinking. This link shows how THEE describes it in terms of individual interactions. Obviously, we’re all different, even within common cultures. And if we want anything, we have to interact with each other. Remember the previous blog “Other People.”

The root of all prejudice is ignorance. And it is all too often that prejudiced parties have no desire to learn about anything that isn’t already familiar to them. As individuals and societies, choosing to know will be the first step.

El-Erian once recounted a lesson his father taught him, saying: “When my father was an Egyptian diplomat posted to France in the early 1970s, he insisted that we be exposed every day to a range of national and international newspapers that spanned the entire political spectrum. When I asked him why we needed such a proliferation of papers, his answer was a simple one: It is a constant reminder that there are many ways to think about the same issue; and no one should assume that they always have the right approach.”

THEE would call this a perspective centered mentality and it’s going to come in very handy in the coming generations. However, this mentality has its own limitations, as do the variety of others. Understanding how these people think is a key to unlock how to interact with them, for your and everyone’s benefit.

With 21C Enlightenment thinkers, many things will seem counter-intuitive (like the banking elite supporting grassroots democratic movements). Much of this revolution of thought will require a shedding of previously-held conventions and ways of thinking that have cemented themselves well into the fabric of society.

You too can participate! It’s as easy as choosing to know. Learn about people, both within and outside of your own society. Be open-minded and well-rounded. Be a force for change in a world desperately searching for one.

The Coming Revolution

It’s a small world after all.

Have you noticed things changing? I think it’s natural for every thoughtful individual and, subsequently, every society to have the sense that the whole of society is in flux.

Think about your parents and grandparents and how they likely have stories about the old days when things were less expensive, people behaved differently, and society operated on different principles. Strangely, the older generation usually seems to think the old days were better, but that may be a different matter.

The truth is, the world really is changing--and quickly. It’s staggering. For example, in about the space of a decade, the internet has become the backbone of the global economy. This new technology, besides aiding in a new step in our society’s values and institutions, has already, and will continue to bring the peoples of the world closer and more intertwined in each other’s business.

We can’t just blame the internet. Things have been heading in this direction for some time. 100 years ago, the tension between France, Britain, and Germany as a result of the lopsided development of their respective societies and economies was a major factor in the start of World War I. Now, of course, economic and social development happens roughly in terms of larger societies designated with terms like “The West” and “The Middle East.”

And economies are so intertwined that the success or failure of one society is largely a factor in the success or failure of many other societies. Yes, long gone are the days when a person could live their life wrapped in the comfortable cocoon of their own culture with little regard for the rest of the world.

Is this good or bad or perhaps just the way things are and value judgments are useless? That depends on whom you ask. Social conservatives in every society always seem to want society to go back to some previous and nonexistent ideal while social progressives want to rush blindly into whatever seems new and interesting.

But what can we do with this information? Is it just an interesting thought, a tasty bit of brain candy? I say no.

As our world shrinks, we’ll have no choice but to interact with people with different attitudes and people who live in societies in different stages of development than our own.

This is already a glaring issue in cities like New York or London where ethnic, religious and attitudinal differences clash on a daily basis. Some of this is just intolerance, but much of it is simply a lack of understanding of the differences between people. The point is: diversity isn’t going away. If anything, it will be a more and more important issue as time goes by.

A new way of thinking is required; one where our interactions come with an awareness of the type of person we’re dealing with. Again, let me use myself as an example.

I am a freelance writer in a mid-sized city in the mountain west region of the United States. I’m white, non-religious, and relatively young. I work for a black woman on the east coast of the U.S., a Muslim in the United Arab Emirates, and with a team of four spread across the U.S., Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia. This type of employment was unthinkable 20 years ago. My work spans borders, currencies, cultures, languages, time zones, race, and religion.

Now, I am still somewhat of a novelty, but this won’t be the case for long. If we are to interact for our own benefit, we will have to accept, acknowledge, and embrace the differences between us.

I don’t say this as some sort of champion of social progress, but rather as someone stating an inevitability. There will never be a day when these differences disappear and conflict will always rear its ugly head. Still, a new enlightenment is around the corner and an understanding of these differences and how to react and adjust to them will be its hallmark.