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Donald Trump is not the problem - Part IV

5 September 2019

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

How to reverse the imbalance that extends from our heads through our societies to our planet?  Certainly not by lining up behind a favorite sector and ignoring the other two.

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

How to reverse the imbalance that extends from our heads through our societies to our planet?  Certainly not by lining up behind a favorite sector and ignoring the other two.

Fixing Private Sector Capitalism?  The popular solution in the United States is to fix capitalism. Proposals abound for what can be called adjectival capitalism: Progressive Capitalism, Breakthrough Capitalism, Caring Capitalism, Conscious Capitalism, Inclusive Capitalism, Regenerative Capitalism, Sustainable Capitalism, and best of all, Democratic Capitalism (capitalism being the noun, democracy the adjective). Methinks that capitalism doth propose too much. How in the world did this word capitalism, essentially about the funding of private enterprises, become the be all and end all of human existence? (Ask an economist.)

Capitalism certainly needs fixing, not least in its stock markets, with their relentless drive for MORE—more production for more consumption with more waste and more warming, the consequences be damned. There are better ways to grow healthy enterprises, for example with patient, responsible capital. Likewise, while we need as much corporate social responsibility (CSR) as we can get, can anyone seriously believe that more CSR could compensate for all the CSI (irresponsibility) we now see around us? Moreover, will private sector interests voluntarily cede the immense power that they have amassed? 

It is societies that need fixing, and fixing capitalism will no more do that than would fixing communism have fixed the broken regimes of Eastern Europe. Capitalism will have to be put in its place, namely the marketplace, out of the public space.

Public Sector Government to the Rescue?  Then there are those who expect government to fix the problem—it is, after all, the paramount authority in democratic society. But look what’s been happening to that authority, and to democracy itself. What can the many governments already coopted by private interests really do? Furthermore, government is hardly the most nuanced institution for a problem that requires nuanced solutions, nor is it especially venturesome for a problem that requires bold action. Whether they come from the left or the right, widely elected governments are drawn toward the center, so as not to upset any major interests.

If not the private or public sectors, then what? The answer will have to begin with an appreciation that there are three fundamental sectors in society, not two.

The Plural Sector for Balance   Just as a stool cannot balance itself on one leg, so a society cannot balance itself on one sector, be that capitalism in the private sector any more than communism in the public sector. And trying to do so on the two more moderate legs of social liberalism on the left and traditional conservatism on the right has driven many countries to swing back and forth between them, fruitlessly, while private interests advance unchecked. A third leg is required for balance.

I call it the plural sector (rather that “civil society”) because it requires a label to be seen as taking its place alongside the sectors called public and private. A society can stand tall when it is supported by the solid legs of respected governments in the public sector, responsible businesses in the private sector, and robust communities in the plural sector.

What is this plural sector? It is all those associations that are neither public nor private—owned neither by the state nor by private investors. Some are owned by their members, as in cooperatives; others are owned by no-one, such as NGOs, clubs, foundations, charities, religious orders, and not-for-profit hospitals, many of these community-based. Alexis de Tocqueville referred to them as associations in his 1830s volumes on Democracy in America, and recognized the key role they were playing in sustaining the new democracy.

We too are the plural sector, each of us and all of us, in our social lives. Many of us work in the private sector and most of us vote in the public sector but all of us live in the plural sector. (How many of its associations figured in your life last week—say, shopping in a co-op, working out at the Y, attending a “private” university, maybe even marching in a protest?)

Thus, the plural sector is huge, far larger than most people recognize. (In the U.S., for example, there are more cooperative memberships than people.) Yet it is obscure, long lost in the great battles over left versus right, public controls versus private interests. This will have to change if we are to get out of the mess that we have created for ourselves. Here, then, is the fundamental point: if we are to stop our descent into self-destruction, the sector that should be called plural will have to take its place alongside the ones called public and private.

Starting in the Plural Sector    With so much dysfunction in the other two sectors, rebalancing will have to begin in the plural sector. We shall have to assert our concerns in our communities, and connect them into an international movement for reformation. The new globalization begins here, in the plural sector—socially and politically as well as economically.

Bear in mind that local community is where major social change—namely reformation—has often begun, whether the collapse of a wall in Berlin, a bus ride in Montgomery, Alabama, or a list of 95 theses nailed to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The established institutions of society—governments, businesses, even some associations—usually need  to be pushed into reform of this kind. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt told a group of activists: “You’ve convinced me. Now go out and make me do it.”  Many a business CEO, facing the constraints of the financial world, could well be telling the activists of today the same thing.

The time for such action is right, now. Perhaps never before have so many people around the world been prepared to vote with their feet and their wallets as well as their ballots. This energy just has to be channeled constructively, toward tangible changes across all three sectors, rather than just being used to lash out in frustration.

Each of the Sectors and all of the Sectors   The plural sector, as noted, has to take the lead, but with clout. Recent protests have brought massive numbers of people into streets around the world, yet the problems continue to intensify. Effective protest requires targeted action: for example, not just occupying Wall Street, but challenging objectionable activities taking place behind its closed doors. In Paraguay, recently, women fed up with the acquittal of a corrupt politician pelted his house with eggs. He resigned. The potential of caring people—especially women and youth—has hardly been tapped.

The associations of the plural sector can also be a potent force for rebalancing, especially working together. Now more than ever, we need full recognition of de Tocqueville’s point about the role that these associations can play in sustaining democracy. This sector may indeed be plural—it includes the National Rifle Association, and so on. But for every NRA, the sector encompasses NGOs concerned with the consequences of imbalance. Amnesty International deals with the problems of social justice, Greenpeace with threats to the environment, Doctors Without Borders with the injures of war.  Beyond each of these specific causes, however, lies their common cause, namely to correct the imbalance that helps to create these problems. What if an alliance of prominent NGOs championed a mobilizing manifesto for balance? As David Brooks put it in a New York Times comment, “…people in the exhausted majority have no narrative…no coherent philosophic worldview to organize their thinking and compel action” (17 October 2018). 

In the private sector, corporations can likewise be addressing the causes of social and environmental problems, beyond relieving their conditions. For example, recycling is good, but reducing waste is better. And best of all would be CSR to promote balance in society, in place of corporate activities that exacerbate the imbalance. But for serious consideration of this, publicly-traded corporations will have to liberate themselves from the tyranny of the stock markets---that short-term obsession with MORE. A utopian thought? Maybe. But businesspeople need only look to Venezuela to appreciate what they have to lose when imbalance runs its full course.

Turning to the public sector, to deal with income disparities, governments will have to liberate themselves from the monied interests of society, domestic and global. This can start with a frontal attack on the legal bribery of political donations.

Some countries, notably in Scandinavia, function well because they have retained their balance. Others, especially some of the most “advanced”, need to recover it before they too cede their democracy to narrow populism. And internationally, few countries can stand up to the divide-and-rule tactics of economic globalization. But acting together, however, they could—as the European Union has demonstrated in confronting companies such as Google. Moreover, acting together, smaller democratic countries need to challenge the assumption that three superpowers must vie with each other for global superiority. Enough of this dangerous nonsense. Is some sort of balanced global governance possible? It had better be so long as nuclear holocaust is possible.

Imagine a city with weak government and no police force. The gangs would take over, carving up the place for themselves, or else battling until they destroy each other, and perhaps the city as well. This is the state of our global village today. Imagine, instead, if an assembly of balanced democracies took on the common cause of global sanity. Who knows, maybe one day this could metamorphose into a Peace Council, to replace the Security Council of the United Nations, whose five permanent members account for about three-quarters of the world’s exports of arms. This is an insecurity council.

Does this idea sound impossible? Only in the context of the lunacy that we take for granted. Such a council in waiting could certainly be possible, indeed may be exactly what we shall need when a real catastrophe is imminent. And please understand that with the proliferation of nuclear weapons in a world ruled increasingly by loose-cannon thugs, this is a question of when, not if. Thus, we need solutions that seem impossible until they become obvious.

Above all there must be a consolidation of effort across all the sectors. We have heard much about PPPs—public-private-partnerships. We need to hear more about PPPPs—again with the plural sector taking its rightful place alongside the other two. Our downward spiral will continue as long as the sectors work at cross-purposes, with the powerful private sector lobbying a weakened public sector that accedes to it or else colludes with it, while both sectors ignore the plural sector, which, in turn, lash out at the excesses of both.

An ascending spiral of renewal can combine what each of the sectors can contribute for balance. Grounded engagement in the plural sector can prompt orchestrated planning in the public sector to encourage autonomous venturing in the private sector. We need to act personally and plurally, privately and publicly.

Each of us and All of us    All of the above is not about whoever “ought to be doing something about this.”  It is about each of us and all of us, who need to create a groundswell for a world of decency. We vote knowing that our one ballot hardly counts but that all our ballots together do. We shall have to adopt the same attitude as we vote in other ways, for the sake of balance: socially, politically, economically, and environmentally.

Next Post:  PART V. YOU CHOOSE: GROUNDED REFORMATION OR GLOBAL DEVASTATION?

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See Rebalancing society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center  for the forerunner to this series.

Donald Trump is not the problem - Part III

16 August 2019

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

We now have a new hegemony in the world, driven by the canon called “globalization”, in the name of “liberal democracy.”

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

We now have a new hegemony in the world, driven by the canon called “globalization”, in the name of “liberal democracy.”

Economic Globalization Unconstrained   The imbalance in favor of the “monied corporations” that concerned Thomas Jefferson has gone global, replacing American hegemony. This is an economic form of globalization that amalgamates the power of multinational corporations, free of any countervailing power. There is no substantial global government to speak of; indeed, the most powerful international agencies, all of them ardently economic—the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the OECD—are cheerleaders for this globalization.

In effect, an unholy alliance of economic dogma with private greed has been overwhelming our collective needs and common interests, thereby destabilizing much of the globe. United this alliance stands, so that divided, many nations yield (excepting the three superpowers, which are able to cheerlead for their own multinationals). On the “level playing field” of our global village, the New York Giants take on some high school team from Timbuktu, with the WTO as the referee. All this in the name of “liberal democracy”.

How Liberal Democracy has become an Oxymoron   Good luck trying to sort out the different meanings of the word “liberal”. My Oxford dictionary lists “favoring individual liberty and limited government involvement in economic affairs” alongside “favoring…a significant role for the state in matters of economics and social justice” together with “open-minded, not prejudiced.” Why not have it all: open markets, open societies. open minds? Many eminent liberals and conservatives alike, on both side of the Atlantic (even though Europeans tend to use the word in the first sense, Americans in the second), do believe that we can have it all, under the label “liberal democracy”.

This worked, more or less, when democracy was overcoming the rule of monarchs, aristocrats, and autocrats. But with the rise of the great imbalance, in favor of private sector interests, the term liberal democracy has become an oxymoron, as the wealthy nations that most subscribe to it have become less democratic and less socially liberal.

How has this happened? Quite simply, in fact. (1) Economic globalization, facing no countervailing power, has been able to play many governments off against each other, especially to have taxes cut on wealth and profits. (2) Denied these traditional sources of income, the governments have reduced services, especially for the disadvantaged, and raised regressive taxes, namely on the sale of goods and services. (3)  And this has further squeezed the very people marginalized by this globalization, namely those who have endured cuts in their wages, benefits, and protections. There is an economic tide all right, but rather than raising all boats, the buoyant yachts have been swamping the anchored dinghies.

Those people still enamored with liberal democracy—usually its prime beneficiaries—don’t get this, or at least don’t care to get it, even though many of the less educated people who have been suffering the consequences do. They sense that free enterprises in free markets have become antithetical to their own freedoms. But not knowing what to do about it, they have been lashing out in the place most open to them, the ballot box. After all, you can con all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot con many of the people most of the time.

The effect of this has become all too evident, with strongmen (so far, no women) elected in countries such as Venezuela, Hungary, Nicaragua, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Brazil, and the United States, not to mention the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. Donald Trump has become a model of sorts, having empowered the bullies of the world, in the high offices as well as on the high streets.

Anything but the establishment, say many of these voters, who certainly know what they are against. So vote they do, far left or far right—who can tell the difference anyway?  (Was the Brexit majority left or right?)  Unfortunately for them, populist leaders often become tyrants, turning against the very democracy that put them into office. (The prime minister of Hungary proudly calls his country an “illiberal democracy”. At least he has the adjective right.) Some wreck their economies in the process, with Venezuela leading the pack. How many others will follow? And if you think that only the marginalized suffer, check out the fortunes of the privileged in Venezuela.

France recently appeared to go another way. Its electorate rejected the far right and the far left, to get the established center—liberal democracy. Then, with an increase in diesel fuel taxes—the regressive straw on that camel’s back—came massive protests in the streets. When up to 77% of the people support a protests, you know that something is up. Or at least down, namely liberal democracy. Where to go next?

 

Next Post  Part IV:  Regaining Balance

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced, without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See  Rebalancing society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center  for the forerunner to this series. 

Donald Trump is not the problem - Part II

19 July 2019

   
I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

   
I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

Hillary Clinton used the word “deplorables” to dismiss those people who supported her opponent in the last presidential election. This claim was itself deplorable, a callous disregard for the understandable concerns of at least some Americans. Who is more deplorable: these who voted for Donald Trump, or those who drove so many of them to do so? Count people like many of us among the latter, the fortunate 10% or so--lawyers, consultants, accountants, academics, managers and analysts—who live the good life off the fortunes of the 1%, while taking Uber to drive more working people toward the minimum wage. If we wish to see a deplorable, we might try looking in the mirror.

Fake Facts from and for all   Fake facts are deplorable too, no question. But they have been inundating society long before Donald Trump came along—even if he does take political theater to a new level. Recall the fake facts of past elections; count the advertisements today that lie by omission if not commission, including those that sell politicians the way they sell detergents; consider what Fox News and the tabloids have been doing for years, now joined by more brazen blogs.

Who these days doesn’t play loose and easy with the facts, from celebrities who endorse products they don’t use and physicians who dismiss “alternate” forms of treatment they don’t understand, to economists who claim to have won a Nobel Prize that doesn’t exist? (Economists at the National Bank of Sweden created that prize for other economists. Check out “Not a Nobel Prize” buried in nobelprize.org.) The American economy is doing well, we are told—just look at the rate of employment. How about looking at the state of employment: stagnating incomes, shameful minimum wages, the elimination of benefits, the proliferation of contract work, and all that “downsizing”—21st century bloodletting—at the drop of a share price. And don’t forget the “leaders” who give us 30-year plans to fix the environment, just before they leave office. This has to be the ultimate joke—except nobody laughs.

The real winner of the fake facts sweepstakes has to be, not Donald Trump, but Vladimir Putin. He saw a huge opening in the fragmentation of American society and used the country’s own social media to ram fake facts straight through it. This is telling: united America could have stood; rampantly individualistic, it stumbles.

Reflecting in America   America is the land of action more than reflection. This is its great strength as well as its debilitating weakness. I was once at a party in rural Virginia in which a group of retired military guys went on and on about government and taxes without ever realizing where all their income and pensions come from.

“Individualism” can mean acting for oneself or thinking for oneself. Rampant in the country is the former. “The Americans will always do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the alternatives” (attributed to Winston Churchill, among others). America is running out of alternatives.

I get the International New York Times regularly. These days it reads like the New York Rant: article after article, comment after comment about Donald Trump’s latest transgression, with rarely an insightful probe into what is truly troubling America. Much the same can be said about CNN, in panel after panel, ad nauseum.

In his Times column of 8 February 2018, Thomas Friedman described the United States as “the world’s strongest guardian of truth, science and democratic norms.” Friedman is hardly alone, even among liberal commentators (such as, Madeleine Albright and George Soros), in promoting this image of noble America, as if there has never also been a nasty America. No Vietnam, no Bay of Pigs, no Iraq, no Pinochet’s Chile, no incursions into the countries of Latin America and elsewhere, never an agenda on behalf of the monied corporations. Just selective memory. Friedman again, on 15 November 2018: “…we always stood for universal values of freedom and human rights…” How can smart people be so dumb?

What has been dumbing down so much of America?   This is a serious question. I have American friends who are among the most thoughtful people I know. Theirs have become voices in the country’s wilderness.

Can the answer lie in the sheer pace and pressure of American life, intensified by the relentless distractions of the new electronic technologies? Or has being on top globally obscured sight of the ground locally? Who knows, maybe it’s all those chemicals in the food, fertilizers in the crops. What I do know is that somebody had better find out what is driving America crazy.

The 19th century comment attributed to P.T. Barnum, that “There’s a sucker born every minute”, suggests that this dumbing down is not new, and while hardly just American, takes on a special character in America. (Recall snake oil remedies and the like.) Perhaps, then, the answer does lie in this pace and pressure: the relentlessness of change in a mass and mobile society, exacerbated by economic forces that foster anxiety. Will the United States be the first country in peacetime history to succumb to incessant change?

In such a society, fitting in can be the safest course: go with the flow, impress. Don’t stand out, except to lead the flow, by taking it to some new extreme. If greed is good, be the greediest (maybe you can become president). If you have something to sell, outshout the competitors. If it’s stardom you crave, be the brashest. Just don’t buck the prevailing worldview, no matter how questionable it has become, unless you can find identity in some club with its own worldview—Saunders, Trump, anti-globalization, pro-choice, pro-life, whatever. And once you are there, don’t work it out, let alone think it through. Fight it out.

David Brooks wrote in his New York Times column (17 October 2018) about the “cult conformity” that has displaced “individual thought” in America. This reluctance to reflect can be found from “Make America great again” for the excluded, and “Fix capitalism to fix society” for the entitled, to “If freedom is to prevail…American leadership is urgently required” for the established (Madeleine Albright in the New York Times, 6 April 2018). All this while America, capitalism, and leadership spin out of control. This is not the wisdom of crowds; this is groupthink.

I have reflected on America in the hope that there can be more reflection in America. We need noble America, not to save us, but to join all other noble peoples in saving ourselves.

Next Post  Part III: Globalization in the name of “Liberal Democracy”

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced in whole or in part, without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center  for the forerunner to this series. (Order at Berrett-Koehler, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk or Download as PDF)