On the Loss of Public Spiritedness in the West and the Impact on Politics

Our Brexit Brain Trust (which has all sorts of interesting discussions all the time on various mainly UK and EU political matters that are often over my pay grade). An article in Unherd titled Does the CCP Control Extinction Rebellion? turned into a fundamental discussion of the role of the state in the West versus China and Japan. This observation from David kicked off the debate:

The answer appears to be “no”, but this seems to be a well-researched and well-sourced investigation of the Chinese buying good ecology opinions. Yes of course others do the same sort of thing, but it’s interesting to see Chinese soft power (if that is what it is) at work.

This led to observations by PlutoniumKun, who first and second hand keeps tabs on new in China, of of how the Chinese government exercises influence and control…that like corporate funders of NGOs, they have understandings of how groups and people are supposed to behave, but are more willing to make a public example of someone who steps out of line, like billionaire Jack Ma or more recently tennis player Peng Shuai.

Clive, who spent some of his childhood in Japan and reads Japanese, pointed out the difficulty of understanding what people in China think about their government:

Worry not, I’ve spent what feels like a lifetime trying to get a straight answer out of Japanese people I know about what they think of their government(s) — which is lot less of a loaded and potentially problematic question than asking a Chinese person what they think of their government — and only in a couple of instances have I received anything back that I could really process…

Which makes me wonder, and wonder is all I can do because of lack of recent first-hand first-person exposure, if that’s what a lot in Asia think of their government. I don’t think those in Asia really see politics as the same thing that, say, a British person, sees it. For one thing, in the U.K. politics is separate from economics. Of course, they interact. There’s a lot over overlap. But in Japan (and I suspect China too), politics is a subdivision of business. When presented with a political problem, every Japanese person I’ve ever spoken too responds with a business or economic slant on what the answer might be and what the issues in play are. Then again, perhaps that is just a handy deflection to avoid anything too like wandering around in a potential minefield.

Based on my shorter experience with the Japanese, I asked:

But isn’t that in part due to the high social cohesion in Japan? I know the younger generation is famously more selfish and not caring for the elderly as well, but aren’t some things like seriously degrading public services like the subways and the shinkasen and health care off the table, so “politics” is largely limited to business? Yes, rural service has been cut but that’s been in the context of rural depopulation and so can be rationalized as not really a fall per se but a necessary rationalization of the system.

Put it another way, aren’t issues like public services and social safety nets political? How can they be business?

Again from Clive:

This is an important difference in perceptions.

In the west, certainly in the Anglosphere, for so long and so gradually have we been subject to atomisation that we’re now also suffering from Stockholm Syndrome — we can’t imagine anything outside of that exists or could exists.

But talk to people who’ve not been so systematically inculturated in that way and you become aware that there’s so many other support networks which are possible. Family (who won’t respond to a plea for assistance with nothing more than warm words and sympathy, if that, but with real substance), the workplace (which won’t throw you out the door in the blink of an eye but try to help you stay employed or if not will genuinely try to place you elsewhere), faith groups and churches (all British Muslims I know say they give their required 10% of income to their mosques, I’ve no reason to doubt this and in turn, the mosques support their communities, I’ve seen their accounts, some have £100M+ in the bank and make multi-million annual disbursements for housing, welfare, employment, healthcare and teaching), circles of friends who don’t only meet up for coffee now and then, neighbourhoods which organise and get support in return even if only an investment in time, but often as not funding from inhabitants etc. etc. etc.

It’s hard to even postulate such things without seeming, such are our prevailing norms, like you’re a naive child. But in Japan and elsewhere, as you say, such social cohesion is at least alive, if not in perhaps such rude health as it used to be.

But in the west, we have nothing, or pretty much nothing. All we have is the state. So we inevitably have an entirely different expectations of the state — and I’d argue unhealthy and unrealistic ones. Because we have nowhere else to turn and no one else to rely on, we are totally dependent on what has become a monopoly supplier. Dependency on a single source of anything is never a good idea. Even if it is impeccably altruistic, it can’t be unfailing perfect. If it fails us and we’ve nothing else to fall back on, we’ve no other options and are in a predicament. And altruism is hard to maintain — the tendency to slip into exploitation or coercion is almost inevitable.

We don’t have a choice though, other than to keep lowering out bucket into the well marked “the state”. Because there are no other wells to put our buckets of needs into. As the other wells have dried up, or been poisoned, we lower our buckets more and more into the one remaining well, drawing out less and less sustenance each time (everyone else, or almost everyone, has the same problem).

This just isn’t the case in Japan. In no area of life does the state act as sole supplier. Healthcare, social security, public transport, housing and the like are hybrid models. There’s some state provision, but healthcare isn’t free at the point of delivery, clinicians are privately employed in their own practices or healthcare providers, unemployment assistance relies on some private savings or help from family to generate even a subsistence allowance, rail and bus services a patchwork of private companies which get some state subsidies but none (save a tiny handful) are public ownership, there’s no social housing (developers are expected to provide some cheap but tiny micro apartments at low, or low-ish, cost).

Private capital is intrinsically involved in all of these. It doesn’t even enter these debate that the state should assume complete responsibility in any of these areas. It would be an anathema and if it were to happen would signal that the social contract had failed or, if it hadn’t failed, would be incapacitated because the state would be rendering it dissolved by impinging on it to such a degree.

Shorter, “public-private partnership” isn’t a dirty word (or dirty phrase). So the question always becomes, what is the interface to, and what is the scope of business in, the essentials of society? Never have I encountered any desire in the Japanese to strong-arm business out of the equation. One can infer that this is because there is still an element of trust in business to fulfil its societal obligations. Implicit in that is that it’s a two way street. The people believe that business should make their fair-shares contribution. But that is bivalent, using the word in its engineering sense, with, in turn, extending the courtesy (I use that word deliberately) to business to make its inputs. It’s a give and take situation. Inherent in a give and take relationship is that you must always allow and facilitate the other party, or groups, to do the giving. So it’s perfectly natural, for a Japanese person, when considering a matter, to ask “what, I wonder, will business be giving here?”. Not, stressing the point as it’s a subtly, “what, I wonder could or should business be giving here?”

Unfortunately, this deep cognitive capture reflects the success of the long-standing program in the US to inculcate pro-business attitudes, meaning the right of companies to pursue profit and not be encumbered by social obligations. That was made explicit by Milton Friedman making up out of whole cloth an idea most assuredly not enshrined in law, that companies supposedly exist to serve shareholders. In fact, equity ownership is a residual claim: creditors, suppliers, the tax man, payments to workers, regulatory fees and fines all come ahead in the payment hierarchy.

Japan never bought into that model. Entrepreneurs are revered not for getting rich but for creating jobs. The most powerful companies in Japan, their trading companies and their banks, were explicitly not to be very profitable because it was well understood that their profits would come at the expense of commercial activity.

And now it is hard to fathom how to counter such deep indoctrination, particularly as it has become even more intense as inequality has exploded.

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  1. fresno dan

    Am I my brother’s keeper?
    Genesis 4:9
    God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us.
    Joel Osteen

    1. JacobiteInTraining

      “Wake early if you want another man’s life or land.
      No lamb for the lazy wolf.
      No battle’s won in bed.”

      – ‘Hávamál’

      Or, perhaps even more appropriate:

      “A sword age, a wind age, a wolf age. No longer is there mercy among men.”

      – ‘The Prose Edda’.

  2. Larry Y

    Maybe there’s some kind of Confucius influence there.

    The CCP is conscious of the “Mandate of Heaven”, as that’s on what they base their legitimacy. Earlier it was mainly economic growth, now it’s moving to quality of life, as environment, economic inequality, etc. become priorities (at least in rhetoric and central government policy – actual change at the local level is difficult).

    As for Japan, I’ll speculate that most Japanese are aware of how little natural resources they do have – there’s not a lot of land, and everything needs to be imported, except for rice and some other food. To industrialize with those constraints… Not dissimilar to Taiwan.

  3. DJG, Reality Czar

    The central issue in Anglo-America is that the average person no longer has any expectations that the government will provide services or enforce the law or even make law–right now, in the USofA, the spectacle of the paralyzed (self-knotted-and-enjoying-it, to paraphrase Lambert Strether) Congress unable to pass the Build Back Thingy, with the knots tightened by the Suddenly All-Puissant Parliamentarian, leads to a kind of despair.

    It doesn’t help, either, that “pro-business” has meant an ethic of ruthless, mindless competition–so much so that the U.S. party system has devolved into high-school cliques or some variation on team sports, whichever is nastier.

    At this point, Americans can’t even preserve the U.S. Post Office, one of the most reliable, trusted, venerable institutions. The Congress wants to give it away to whoever can loot it.

    One thing an American notices right away in Italy is that there is visual recognition of another person. You go to the same caffe two days in a row, and it is obvious that they know you and are tracking your tastes. I recall living in Evanston, IL, years back–and after going to the same stores over and over, the owners would simply fail to note my presence. And I’m not that ghostly.

    So you have the Anglo-American citizen reduced to a consumptive, ignored wraith.

    Clive noted that support provided by mosques to Muslims: I note that the “salvation by faith alone” ethic in Anglo-American religion means lack of solidarity. Catholics believe that salvation is collective. Decadent U.S. Protestantism believes salvation means that you’re on your own. Again, there is a difference in tone in a Catholic country (more social cohesion, even if now frayed), where salvation isn’t individual (“atomized” to use a word from above).

    To turn to Japan. Japanese have a long history of being democratic and assertive. It isn’t all flower arranging and bowing. Histories of the Meiji era also treat the unrest in the countryside. Yet the Japanese retain a sense that everyone is part of the larger whole.

    The Anglo-American world is preoccupied with monetizing the whole. What could possibly go wrong?

    1. Wukchumni

      There’s a real anonymous thing about America in that its common for the denizens in the Big Smokes to not know their neighbors, and in a melting plot such as LA, sometimes there were cultural issues in that our neighbors only spoke Korean for instance-limiting intercourse.

      We bought our home in 2001 (a place odyssey) and when we moved in, knocked on the door of every home within 6 doors of us we decided, and on most of them you sensed even back then before 9/11 that people were wary of making contact-not everybody mind you.

      Oh sure, when the moat was going up allowing a 4 wheeled ship to leave port, there’d be waves if they saw you also enclosed in a jalopy, but a lot of them seemed forced.

      Fast forward to 2005, housing bubble seems toppy and hasta LA vista, baybee!

      Our house sells in a month and the sold sign appears on what looks like a miniaturized hangmans gallows on the lawn, and our neighbor Bob from across the street is having a chat with us on the driveway, and he’s a retired American Airlines pilot and he and his wife were the original buyers of their house across the street. Great neighbors~

      Up from the cul de sac roars a BMW with daddy-o driving, mom riding shotgun with a couple of kids in the back, and the car screeches to a halt in front of our driveway and down rolls the passenger window half-way and she tells us how she’s going to miss us like nobody ever missed somebody and yammers on for a few minutes and we exchanged pleasantries, and up went the window and off they roared.

      I asked Bob how long he’d been living here and he mentions that they bought their home new in 1967, and then I inquired, ‘who were those people?’

      And he uttered…

      “I have no idea”

      1. vlade

        When we moved to the UK, in the first flat we had lovely neighbors living above and below us. Both were in their 70s.
        In the next place, which was a new build, we had about 5 families living virtually within 50 meters of us. A week or so after we moved in, a neighbor immediately next to us was moving grass in front of his house. I went out and to him – he cringed. I believe he thought I was coming to berate him for being noisy with his lawnmover. When I told him I was just going to say hello, he sort of said hello, but disappeared as fast as he could. No one there was interested in any social interaction. It was not a society, it was a fancy “place to go to sleep”.

        When we moved to a village from there, again, there was a significant difference between older people, who were socialising with us, and the younger, who just kept to themselves. I guess if we had a kid going to school, maybe we’d see it more, but maybe not.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      That is so perverse. In NYC, maybe precisely because it seems so hustle-bustle, store staff (even checkout clerks) have a nodding, eye contact recognition of regular customers. In the days when I got espresso on my peregrinations, every staffer who saw me more than once or twice(except a new Brooklyn hipster one), knew to expect my order. Admittedly I really stand out because I use a shooting stick, but still…

      1. DJG, Reality Czar

        Yves Smith. A yes, your shooting stick. Also, you have kinduv an intelligent twinkle in your eye.

        Evanston (and the North Shore) are an example of why Midwestern Nice is so deadly.

        I moved back into the city of Chicago so that I could ask questions and get real answers. Yes, after the first or second time in a couple of Chicago coffeehouses–including La Colombe–people knew me. The difference was notable, and it can’t be chalked up to Midwestern reserve.

        Of course, in Chicago, I only drank espresso in the morning–which is highly unusual. Everyone else was ordering sugary extrawhippychinos.

  4. flora

    Thank you for this good discussion on a central topic.
    I wonder how many Western people under the age of 30 even remember a time when wages were going up, good jobs were readily available without a college degree, and life was an optimistic projection of things getting better? That was before the neoliberal thought collective ideals infested almost every branch of govt and ideology in the US. What does neoliberalism project for our future: Atomization down to the last atom of the individual, if they can manage it, imo. Here’s a 2016 essay in Forbes magazine from a young grad of the WEF’s Young Global Leaders program.

    Welcome To 2030: I Own Nothing, Have No Privacy And Life Has Never Been Better


    Where does public spirit fit into that projection? (The future sounds like a zoo housing higher level primates .)

    1. flora

      Adding: neoliberalism (and libertarianism) is an ideology begun by 2 old Austro-Hungarian Empire men disappointed in democracy : Hayek and von Mises.

      The Political and Moral Economies of Neoliberalism: Mises and Hayek – Cambridge Journal of Economics, 2013.

      See also The Mont Pelerin Society.

      All this is to say neoliberalism is not original to the Anglo-American sphere; it was a European/Austrian idea gladly imported to the US and Britain and the EU countries’ governments by ‘men of influence’ who it as useful to increase their wealth and power.

        1. Sufferin Succotash

          Von Mises and Hayek were also products of the economic, political and moral dumpster fire that was Central and Eastern Europe between 1914 and 1945 (add Leo Strauss and Ayn Rand to the list). Ivan Berend’s Decades of Crisis: Central & Eastern Europe Before World War II is very good on this.

          1. lance ringquist

            i always thought that the soviets let rand come to american, to internally sabotage us. she did a good job for sure.

        2. Sufferin Succotash

          Von Mises & Hayek were also products of the political, economic and moral dumpster fire that was Central and Eastern Europe between 1900 and 1945 (add Leon Strauss and Ayn Rand to the list). Ivan Berend’s Decades of Crisis: Central & Eastern Europe Before World War II is very good on this.

      1. juno mas

        Yes. It ended with cheap oil (1973) and the realization that funding an endless war (Vietnam) would eventually lead to inflation at home. I remember it well (but I’m only partially in the workforce).

        1. Joe Well

          If you read Matt Stoller’s Goliath, it was, even more so, the result of a conscious movement to concentrate wealth.

          Meanwhile, 21st century endless war didn’t lead to inflation or did it?

            1. Sufferin Succotash

              The dollar was not on a gold standard for domestic purposes and had not been since April, 1933. It was the gold exchange standard for international transactions that lasted until Nixon dropped it in 1971.

          1. Objective Ace

            >Meanwhile, 21st century endless war didn’t lead to inflation or did it?

            I dunno.. not in prices–but I think it could be argued inflation is reflected in the quality of products. It was mentioned on NC awhile back that toasters used to last a lifetime–now you need 10 or 20 over that time period. From a cost perspective in aggregate–thats your inflation

    2. Hepativore

      I have seen myriads of articles touting the exact same thing. It seems like a giant “less is more” propaganda campaign by elite cultural arbiters for the peasantry to get used to a life of endless and miserable serfdom and rule by a kleptocratic, corporate aristocracy.

      Notice how none of these sorts of articles mention that this “own nothing” mantra does not include the upper 10% of the income hierarchy?

      1. Tom Pfotzer


        Not being snarky. I think this is very difficult. We don’t do teams, we don’t create stuff, we’re atomized into specialized bolt-holes. We do the rhetoric, but not much beyond that.

        I really want to do what you advocate, but no one around me seems interested.

        The general theme of the article is “Stockholm Syndrome” – a fish immersed in water can’t imagine breathing air.

        See Hepativore’s comment below for confirmation.

    3. QuicksilverMessenger

      Perhaps I will note here a potential zeitgeist data point. I was at a family thanksgiving and out of the blue one of my 16 year old nephews asked me if I had ever taken magic mushrooms. Then he began talking about DMT as well, and was pretty knowledgeable about things psychedelic and its history. I played kind of dumb but added in some things about Albert Hoffman, Strassman (‘The Spirit Molecule’), shamanism etc. but mainly because I was interested in WHY he was interested. Apparently his friends too. It wasn’t exactly clear as I would suspect it wouldn’t be.
      Maybe something is percolating in the background, underneath; something more like ‘life’ rising up as an antidote to all that now seems ‘against life’. Maybe it will be up the youth yet again

      1. Hepativore

        It could also be that many people are turning to psychedelics as a form of psychological escapism again now that the writing is on the wall for just how powerless they are to secure much in the way of stability or security for themselves in the new Gilded Age that the current corporate aristocracy has in store for us.

        I was born in 1984, and for many of us my age and younger, neoliberalism and precarity are all that we have ever known.

      2. Mike

        In my 20’s, here’s my perspective…. I think that the younger folk face two forces pulling against each other. There are those tethered to their devices living artificial lives also those that really want to seek out great experiences, separate of the consumerism culture the 2 generations previously were fond of. Place the mushrooms under the experiential force. Even from those that are tethered to their devices they can still probably acknowledge some need or desire to do “cool” things; mushrooms, partying, travel, etc. Not quite the counter culture of the 60’s but probably a response to post 08’ economy providing different and more constrained opportunities. Think of the rise of the YOLO culture as another parallel. Just my two cents.

      3. Henry Moon Pie

        I’m guessing by your handle that you’re old enough to remember Leary advocating LSD in the water supply. One instance was at the Houseboat Summit with Watts, Ginsberg and Snyder. Well, a few weeks back in my explorations, I ran across a YouTube of Michael Pollan coming very close to recommending the same at–of all places–a symposium at Harvard Divinity School. I think both recognize(d) that psychedelics are able to temporarily disable the cultural filter through which we view the world, thereby enabling the imagination to see something new and different. We certainly are in a situation where we need people to dream some dreams, have some visions, escape the confines of the culturally imposed prison we’re in.

        I think of psychedelics as a short cut, and given the time constraints, we’re in desperate need of short cuts and anything else that can speed up a process of radical cultural change.

  5. Pelham

    I wonder whether the explanation for greater trust in institutions across Asia has a simpler source. Perhaps the interests of the private and public elites in those countries still very roughly align with the interests of ordinary people. We might have had a similar situation here in the 20-30 years after World War Two. But over the past 50 years our elites have evolved into globalists who are absolutely delighted to leave the rest of us behind.

    1. flora

      I might venture a guess in China we see greater levels of fear of govt more than of trust. I wonder if “public spirit” there is performative. The interests of ordinary people are expected to align with govt rather than the reverse. See for example the Social Credit System. my 2 cents.

      1. witters

        I think the fear of government is far greater in the US than in the China I know. And the performativity seems to me too to be far more entrenched and endemic in US Politics just because there is no political sense of the point and value of national citizenship (and certainly among political elites). my 3 cents.

        1. John

          After 1989 the government and the Party made a sort of deal with the people of China. We will give you economic growth and a shot at a better life. We take care of politics and, most importantly, do not challenge the Party. I have never met or spoken to a Chinese who seemed afraid of the government or even especially aware of it. In no way do I pretend that my experience proves anything. It is simply my observation.

  6. Wandering Mind

    I have seen Yves state on a number of occasions that Friedman’s position that companies supposedly exist to serve shareholders was made up out of whole cloth and is an idea most assuredly not enshrined in law.

    This triggered a now long distant memory from my corporate law class about the case of Henry Ford vs. the Dodge brothers.

    A business corporation is organized and carried on primarily for the profit of the stockholders. The powers of the directors are to be employed for that end. The discretion of directors is to be exercised in the choice of means to attain that end and does not extend to a change in the end itself, to the reduction of profits or to the nondistribution of profits among stockholders in order to devote them to other purposes.

    Dodge v. Ford Motor Co., 204 Mich. 459, 507 (Mich. 1919)

    That position has been challenged over the years, but I would submit that it supports Friedman’s position, distasteful as that may be.

  7. begob

    Perhaps Marx had it right: the dictatorship of the proletariat did occur, it’s just that they turned out to be corporate managers, subject only to the dissipated authority of distant shareholders and the dirigible enthusiasms of politicians, and otherwise free to maintain a system of vertical control. When spliced with the discipline of finance, they command a perfect panopticon. So China may have beaten us to it in a great leap after Tiananmen.

    1. Synoia

      I disagree. A corporation is feudal.It has
      A King (CEO)
      A Court t(Board of Directors and and CFO) reports
      Allies: (Suppliers, Distributors and Directors)
      And peasants (Workers), with control of the Peasants.

      It is always looking for Conquests.

  8. Janie

    Some years ago on a cruise, we had our lunch waiter to ourselves as everyone else went to the buffet. He was Turkish, and the subject became coffeehouses. He was puzzled at our statement that Americans did not gather in the equivalent of pubs and coffee houses and visit with one another. I think he felt he was misunderstanding us as he kept returning to the subject. He asked variations of how do you get to know your neighbors, how do you help one another etc for several days. He apparently checked with other Americans on his dinner shift to verify. I can only conclude that we were richer in money and poorer in community than he.

    1. Stosh

      > Americans did not gather in the equivalent of pubs and coffee houses and visit with one another. …
      > how do you get to know your neighbors, how do you help one another etc for several days [?]

      I am American. I grew up in a rural area but we knew all of the 7-8 families on our road pretty well. Some we liked better than others but we knew them all and if anyone needed help then everybody was there for them. I lived in the UK for a few years in my 20s. I was shocked by the custom there that neighbors who had known each other for 30 years or more and had drunk and socialised together in the local pub all that time had never once been in each other’s homes.

  9. Janie

    Adding, when we would return from camping trips in the past, friends might ask if we had met anyone interesting around the campfire. Our answer was no, that almost everyone is inside the RV watching TV.

  10. Mark Anderson

    This account seems to overlook that Japanese railroads were government run for decades and then privatized in 1987 as part of neo-liberal economic reforms. I don’t think you will find much evidence that the Japanese felt there was something wrong with the government running the railroads for much of the 20th Century.

    In other words, I think this account’s emphasis on Asian cultural norms is obscuring some ways that history also happens in Japan and Asia. For better or worse (I would say worse), the Japanese and Chinese also read Hayek and Friedman.

    Lessons from Railway Privatization

    Privatization of the Japanese National Railway

    1. Sound of the Suburbs

      Neoliberalism is a global project.
      It has moved a lot faster in some countries than others, with the US and UK being way out in front.
      Scandinavia was even better in the past, and progress has been slow there, but it’s still moving in that direction.

      I read a book “Twilight of the Elites” by Christophe Guilluy, about France, and couldn’t believe how neoliberal it was already. So much of it was instantly recognisable from the UK.
      I had thought Macron’s job was to make France more neoliberal, as they were falling behind, but it’s very neoliberal already.

      I got this from The Telegraph, who were trying to show how bad Europe was, in support of Brexit. They described what a successful country in Europe now looks like, i.e. Germany.
      “Germany is turning to soft nationalism. People on low incomes are voting against authority because the consensus on equality and justice has broken down. It is the same pattern across Europe,” said Ashoka Mody, a former bail-out chief for the International Monetary Fund in Europe.
      Mr Mody said the bottom half of German society has not seen any increase in real incomes in a generation. The Hartz IV reforms in 2003 and 2004 made it easier to fire workers, leading to wage compression as companies threatened to move plants to Eastern Europe.
      The reforms pushed seven million people into part-time ‘mini-jobs’ paying €450 (£399) a month. It lead to corrosive “pauperisation”. This remains the case even though the economy is humming and surging exports have pushed the current account surplus to 8.5pc of GDP.”

      It’s horrendously neoliberal already.

      1. Susan the other

        Just remembering the late 80s after Reagan and Maggie Tina dumped all the long-term patients in mental hospitals out on their butts. It’s true here in the US that many of those facilities were horror stories and the patients were probably better off being evicted – but to have no safety net set up was simply careless. It was reported back then that all the loonies were living on the street and bothering regular people, etc. Both in the UK and the US. That was the first wave of “homelessness” as I recall. I would say it set an immediate standard for irresponsibility. Which we still operate under. Clearly TINA was the neoliberal project underway and done in response to the growing expense of social services in an overpopulated world. Government turned on the people. How the hell does that happen? That’s almost as disconcerting as the insurrection of the robots. And there was no way to stop it. We still are not housing the “houseless” very effectively; we are not feeding the hungry; we don’t take care of garbage or lead in the water or polluted air – or anything. We ruthlessly destroyed Labor – it was literally shocking to watch. But this has finally become Neoliberalism’s problem – a lesson they have probably learned too late. Nobody trusts anyone with a canned answer or an evasive glance. Those guys have all squandered the benefit of the doubt. To put things in perspective, even Robert Reich has warned economists about the suicide of destroying demand because demand is the only thing that supports capitalism (so dictatorship of demand?). And just last week on PBS there was another interview with Noam Chomsky about how we get out of the mess we have made of it all, and he said (paraphrasing here), Well, capitalism can be anything we decide to make it, just look at China. So I happen to believe that. And imo if we put sovereign money in the service of the sovereign (which is us) we can solve inequality and environmental destruction easily. If we do not control sovereign money, then privateers will control the direction of the future. And it will be impossible to trust them.

      2. lance ringquist

        once the rich can cross borders free from sovereignty, taxes, and democratic control. out goes governance, in comes fascism.

        governments must learn how to govern all over again. to do that will entail a lot of pain. hope we do not melt down into a world war again.

        nafta like politicians must be driven out at all costs. sovereignty must be restored.

        1930’s fascist central europe was a warning.

        there were about 400 billionaires world wide before nafta billy clinton gutted the countries of the world sovereignty in 1993, by the 2000’s we have now over two thousand billionaires and rising.

        they are close to calling all of the shots now in the west. time is short.

  11. MonkeyBusiness

    I don’t know what Chinese people think of their government, but I do know they think of government jobs as 铁饭碗, the literal translation being “iron rice bowl”. Knowing that phrase will make you sound like an authentic Chinese speaker, I guarantee it ;)

    Speaking about the West, isn’t there Christianity? I don’t think Americans go to church that often, but in many European countries, I think there are still strong Christian communities?

    I am surprised that Clive didn’t mention one thing since he had spent time in Japan, but one of the traditions of the Japanese education system is students doing お掃除 or cleaning their own classrooms, something even the most dedicated Socialists of the West would balk at (what, my prince/princess cleaning classrooms? familyblog*). It’s certainly one effective avenue for inculcating some civic values in the young.

    Finally, what about South Korea? After the 1998 crisis, the government issued a clarion call, and millions of citizens answered. https://www.dw.com/en/koreans-gold-donations-a-model-for-greeks/a-18357224. From the article:

    “The Korean people tackled the crisis head-on. Starting in January 1998, the government asked the country’s citizens to donate their gold jewelry to help repay the loan more quickly. Millions answered the call and went to special collection points to give the government what they could in heirlooms, wedding rings, or small gold figures, such as those traditionally presented in Korea on a child’s first birthday. Athletes brought in gold medals and trophies.”

    I can NEVER imagine that kind of dedication to the state existing in the West ever.

      1. John

        When I went to a small prep school in the early 1950s, we cleaned the classrooms, the dorms, and did the dishes as well, but then it was a different world.

  12. jim truti

    I still think Milton was right, the business should focus in making profits.
    They are ill equipped to deal with social issues.
    Its the role of the government to regulate, tax and redistribute wealth and break up monopolies. (I was amazed to find in the federalist papers that their concern with monopolies was not so much to protect the consumer, but that they will get so big and powerful that will buy off the government.)
    The core issue I think is that we have a government that is not working because of pervasive incompetence.
    Governing people is a profession, not anyone can do it just because you have enough votes to get elected. Volcker saw the weakness of democracy in that the public service was attracting less and less qualified people, that is why he spent most of his latter years trying to elevate the public professions.

    I have mixed views about the family, religious or other networks support system.
    Human nature is what it is and I dont think asians or muslims have some more advanced notions than us. One has to look at the micro level how such system works, imagine yourself being the person in need and you have to go and ask your family or church for help?
    They might help but it never comes cost free if not in material terms it certainly creates moral and ethical debts to be redeemed in the future. Not everyone might like that.
    The anonymous help from the state is better imho as it does not damage our need for recognition which is much more important than material needs in many cases.

    1. LawnDart

      Jim T.,

      The core issue I think is that we have a government that is not working because of pervasive incompetence.

      I would disagree: we have a government that is not working because of pervasive corruption, and that it is this very corruption that leads to incompetence and public employee disengagement, which ultimately lends to poor or inadequate services.

      This is not to suggest that there are not tens of thousands of dedicated and professional public servants and employees working on our behalf today, but the amount of rot that presently exists throughout our governments, federal and local, is unacceptable and poses direct threats to public health and to public safety: public officials need to be held to higher standards and to be held to account for their actions.

      That said, I otherwise would overall tend to agree with your points.

      1. Pate

        Well, whether “pervasive incompetence” (jim truti) or “pervasive corruption” (LawnDart)
        the cause is what the federalist framers feared: that corporate monopolies would “get so big and powerful that they will buy off the government”. Free-rein capitalism begets bigness and bigness begets free-rein capitalism. Mix well and you get a captive government that serves the economic interest of big business at the expense of the social and cultural interest of the people.

        1. LawnDart


          … you get a captive government that serves the economic interest of big business at the expense of the social and cultural interest of the people.

          True, as the neocons have re-emerged with Ukraine at play on the chessboard, and the neolibs have “let ‘er rip!” and pandemic profiteering keeping them busy.

          Locally, the mayor got convicted of bribery, and, prior to the trial, the city manager and the police chief skedaddled for the hills or otherwise less restive pastures, away from the spotlights.

          Government here was bought off, but not by corporate monopolies– local businesses/regional business interests were the ones looking to fleece the taxpayers. Incidentally, the (now former) mayor’s campaign received funding from Crossroads PAC– ever hear of them? If not, you ought to read Chris Hedges book, American Fascists, which gives good insight into the nexus of our religious right and the multinationals– what I saw was that they have a good grip at the federal level, and that they are still extending their tenticles at the local.

          Did the framers have this in mind?

      2. Lost in OR

        Who was it who coined the phrase “starve the beast”? I believe that came out during the Reagan years.

    2. Charger01

      I still think Milton was right, the business should focus in making profits.

      Indeed, that is the only goal of capitalism.


      Inputs (or employees) be damned, they simply reduce profits. Nevermind whom you will actually sell your products to……

      1. jim truti

        Its hard to argue with Friedman and almost impossible to win, imho he was one of the most insightful economists of our time.
        Most business owners are not what you would consider “socially aware” people and have come to their riches through a combination of all kind of opportunities and pure luck. Money corrupting everything and business owners having so much of it, one could not think of a worse candidate to take care of our social ills.
        One of my pet peeves, charitable organizations by the very rich , like Gates, Buffet etc. I have no doubt they will spend the money in a more efficient way the the gov, but how do they determine on what causes to spend that money on?
        The whole thing is a tax avoidance scheme imho plus they get to spent the money they were supposed to pay in taxes financing their pet projects under the name of charity. A double whammy, lots of influence and virtue signaling, all paid by money that should have been collected by IRS.
        How about I create a non profit, send my tax money there instead of the IRS and use it to save the bees or some other project I deem worthy? I doubt IRS will fall for it.
        Let business create wealth and let government regulate, tax and redistribute, not ideal but still better than alternatives.

            1. lance ringquist

              2008 was milton freidmans economy. if you were alive then and breathing, you got to see how well markets self correct, self police, and self right, OOPS, they did not, and had to be bailed out by the people.

              it turns out people are not logic driven individuals carefully measuring everything, but merely participants driven by out of control markets.

              in one weekend we saw milton freidmans economy blow a 29 trillion dollar hole in americas economy. simply breath taking that anyone would even consider saying anything but that he deserves to be dug up and hung.

            2. skippy

              Sorry I can’t get the original NSFWCORP Mark Ames link right now so this would have to suffice … a wee taste …

              In his early days, before millions were spent on burnishing his reputation, Friedman worked as a business lobby shill, a propagandist who would say whatever he was paid to say. That’s the story we need to revisit to get to the bottom of the modern American libertarian “movement,” to see what it’s really all about. We need to take a trip back to the post-war years, and to the largely forgotten Buchanan Committee hearings on illegal lobbying activities, led by a pro-labor Democrat from Pennsylvania, Frank Buchanan.

              What the Buchanan Committee discovered was that in 1946, Milton Friedman and his University of Chicago cohort George Stigler arranged an under-the-table deal with a Washington lobbying executive to pump out covert propaganda for the national real estate lobby in exchange for a hefty payout, the terms of which were never meant to be released to the public. They also discovered that a lobbying outfit which is today credited by libertarians as the movement’s first think-tank — the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE)— was itself a big business PR project backed by the largest corporations and lobbying fronts in the country.

              The FEE focused on promoting a new pro-business ideology—which it called “libertarianism”— to supplement other business lobbying groups which focused on specific policies and legislation. It is generally regarded as “the first libertarian think-tank” as Reason’s Brian Doherty calls it in his book “Radicals For Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern Libertarian Movement” (2007). As the Buchanan Committee discovered, the Foundation was the best-funded conservative lobbying outfit ever known up to that time, sponsored by a Who’s Who of US industry in 1946. – snip


              You might not be aware, but the so called economists which provided the neoliberal agenda the Bernays sauce dressed up as deep intellectual academic thought where imported from the U.K. and Europe as they fled what they thought was a commie wave of socialism. The good corporate/private citizens highlighted in the link above set up networks in academia whilst providing funding and a perch for those like Milton. I mean its not confusing what sort of people were pushing this on the unwashed and what rolled around in their heads or what means they felt was justified in driving it – some really vulgar opinions on people not in their class and a historical perspective which could challenge Q anon for absurdity.

              The best part of it all is how they created a Messiah complex like cognitive effect on all that were sucked in by the narrative they spun e.g. from time immortal the trick is too – suspend disbelief – and once accomplished the core a priori axiom may pole/cornerstone can be used to hang anything on. You might not like me saying this, but I can clearly see it in your borrowed dialectal, something IMO you did not arrive at yourself or did the thousands of hours of reading and study to independently arrive at your conclusions. This is why you feel strongly about the subject person in question when his views are questioned and how that translates to your past/present state of mind.

              Put it this way … he and his ilk were quite ethically and intellectually malleable and the modern term Flexian is a good fit, Hudson’s experiences with Greenspan is a good example and look how far he went …

              1. lance ringquist

                steve keen said something on the order of that those so called economists, completely ignore reality. and have crafted a reality where pink elephants can fly.

            3. drumlin woodchuckles

              Commenter skippy once mentioned such a book millions of words ago. There would be no way to find that comment now.

        1. lance ringquist

          it was easy to debunk freidman. when was he ever right? see iceland, chile, and the U.K. he made a mess of everything.

          his lying about singapore and hong kong was priceless.

          1. skippy

            Not to mention his Monetarist bet on the Pound that was like 6K% wrong …

            Then some are confused about an ideology dressed up as economics, but has zero functional knowledge of the Monetary, Banking, or Financial system which proceeds and facilitates all other aspects of the economy …

            Naw … were left with camp fire story’s about monsters in the woods [hyper inflation], property stealing harpies [scale???? – dogbox vs monopolist], atomistic individualism bargaining between people with little or no capital against those with billions of capital … groan … but here have some of my equity with no rights to assets in lieu of your productivity … Capitalism … chortle …

            1. lance ringquist

              yep, a fantasy dressed up as reality. and when reality pops its head up(and it always does, see 2008). down comes all of the carefully built up absurdities and contradictions.

              then government has to bail out capital that has ran out of other peoples monies.

              1. jim truti

                I dont think Friedman would have approved bailing out the banks or any other big business. His main points were free trade, small government, and a slow, steady increase of the money supply in a growing economy. I find no faults with those positions.

                1. lance ringquist

                  friedmans economies were always crashing and needed to be bailed out. he once said free trade will never work, but its fits his ideology, so lets go with it.

                  friedman was a crank, a charlatan, everything he touched turned to crap.

                  today is the results of friedmans economy.

                2. skippy

                  As is Friedman’s want he bastardized every other economists terms and their meanings i.e. Smiths free markets was ***free*** from rents and monopolies where as Friedman was fine with both – see share holder value meme/trope and EMH …

                  That is not even getting into the dramas with uncertainty and perceptions about equilibrium, that level of introspection requires more than reading Friedman’s prose, very deep in the weeds of some very difficult territory for the uninitiated.

                  But I would offer you something to consider from an old compatriot that used to post on NC.

                  The Ideology at the Heart of Modern Economics

                  The curious thing about modern economics is its almost complete insularity. Its proponents appear to have very little notion of how it applies to the real world. This is not the case in normal sciences. Take physics, for example. It is extremely clear how, say, the inverse squares law applies to experienced reality. In the case of gravitation, for example, the inverse squares law makes experimentally testable predictions about the force exerted by, say, the gravitational pull between the sun and the earth.

                  Modern economics – by which I mean neoclassical or marginalist economics which relies on the notion of utility-maximisation as its central pillar – completely lacks this capacity to map itself onto the real world. As philosophers of science like Hans Albert have pointed out, the theory of utility-maximisation rules out such mapping a priori, thus rendering the theory completely untestable. Since the theory is untestable it cannot be falsified and this allows economists to simply assume that it is true.

                  Once the theory is assumed to be true it can then be applied everywhere and anywhere in an entirely uncritical manner. Anything can then be interpreted in terms of utility-maximisation. This is most obvious in popular publications like Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. Such books read in an almost identical way to the fashionable books of 19th century phrenology. The economists address everything from parenting to crime to the Ku Klux Klan by filtering it through the non-experimental theory of utility-maximisation – a theory that has not and cannot be verified and so the author and reader alike take it entirely on trust. – snip


                  So without getting hung up on brand names of various schools of economic thought there is a much more critical/fundamental aspect which needs to be considered with the currant dominate orthodox economic methodology. I mean unless you think the Council of Nicaea approach is the way too go.

                  I can also recommend Lars Syll for a more nuanced and informed perspective. Hope that helps.

                  P.S. actually used to debate Milton’s AnCap son David and his Indian side kick … the apple did not fall far from the tree as it were … hard to think of a more disingenuous debater which would resort to bald face lies when cornered.

                  1. lance ringquist

                    boy to even be in the same room with such creatures, you must have had to delouse once you got home.

                    yes its almost the whole so called profession. krugman comes to mind when he bullied the deplorable for decades over free trade, then said if i knew it could never work, i would have never endorsed it!

                    you can’t make this stuff up.

                    princeton finally got rid of wilson, the rest of the worlds schools should follow suit, and clean up their schools.

                    but the austrian one can’t be cleaned up, its based on fascism.

                    i do read lars from time to time.

    3. John

      I was amazed to find in the federalist papers that their concern with monopolies was not so much to protect the consumer, but that they will get so big and powerful that will buy off the government.

      They were right about that weren’t they

  13. Sam S

    The author fails to account for the times in this country where the societal functions that elevated the individual existed, and the inherent monetary functions in policy (remind you, policy that is conducted outside the political scope) that produce inequity.

    The United States is a nation, written in stone, that is to elevate the individual. A strong society of individuals are incumbent to utilize the most effective elements of one’s self and promote this in society. We are intended to be a society not in collective bondage but in collective spirit, not defeatism and state-sanctioned equity. Anything beyond this works against the core of the human spirit and is visibly reflected for all to witness.

    1. FluffytheObeseCat

      These statements read like libertarian cult propaganda, but are somewhat unclear, and may not be meant as such. Regardless, the United States had, from the beginning, a far more critical and honorable purpose than mere elevation of the individual. To wit:

      1) Our founding documents were written on parchment not stone.

      2) The first three words of the Constitution are: “We the People”. This is not an accident. The document is designed to promote our collective well being in the face of a world filled with other, often hostile groups, commonly nation states.

      3) Wikipedia correctly describes the scope of the Constitution as,”…twofold. First, ‘to form a more perfect Union’ than had previously existed in the ‘perpetual Union’ of the Articles of Confederation. Second, to ‘secure the blessings of liberty’, which were to be enjoyed by not only the first generation but for all who came after, ‘our posterity'”.

      Again, the emphasis is on a more effective, more perfect Union. Ignoring this intense emphasis and always going on only about “liberty” alone when “interpreting” the purpose of our foundation…. is just lying.

      1. Pate

        Actually “we the people” were words carefully chosen by the centralizers (federalists) to defrock the states rights crowd (antifederalists). In this sense you are correct: it was about a stronger federal union.

  14. Gulag

    “But in the west we have nothing or pretty much nothing. All we have is the state. So we inevitably have an entirely different expectation the the state–and I’d argue unhealthy and unrealistic one.”

    Is anyone is this British Brain Trust aware of the “Save the Parish” movement in England. It is composed primarily of lay people and priests who are fighting against the destruction of the parish system that is an important source of local life.

    Alison Milbank, Canon theologian from Southwell Cathedral in Nottinghamshire has written that:
    “Since as long ago as the twelfth century England has been organized into parishes for it was one of the most
    got-together and prosperous realms of the Middle Ages. Parish churches have been a constant feature in our landscape right up to the present…They proclaim higher values than the market, something or someone who calls us to account. They assert a spiritual depth to reality.”

    Her call is a response to an attempt by the Church of England to replace parish churches with lay-led virtual gatherings–10,000 new churches meeting on Zoom rather than in person. It appears that the Church of England has now totally capitulated to market values and managerialism.

    It would seem that such movements, attempting to defend local life in England offer an ideal opportunity for the British Left to directly involve themselves in an attempt to endorse a more holistic vision of life rooted in place and time and to defend things that still matter to most people.

    As much of the Left in the west seems intent on endorsing a Beijing style state-led market, activities like “Save the Parish,” appear to be questioning engrained secularism and the traditional secular state patterns of centralizing power and wealth.

    1. David

      Giles Fraser, journalist and rector, has been covering this story for a while now. For example.
      Alas, I don’t think this is going to be taken up as a cause by the Left. Now if it could somehow be linked with transexual rights ….

  15. Copeland

    Hmm, I’ve often pondered about these different systems, USA vs other places, this is where I’m at now:

    USA: Made up entirely of a bunch of people+progeny from someplace else who didn’t like their current circumstances, left their places of birth to find something better, a place where they could start a business to get “more” for themselves.

    Japan: Made up entirely of people who never went anywhere because Japan was the “best society ever”, with the “best people ever”, and we wont let any of those other people come here.

    I’m currently thinking that it is culturally baked into the cake that USAians will be all about maximizing their own advantage because there is no society, just a bunch if individuals, whereas in Japan, there is only society (and business has always been part of that society), and a very ancient and enduring one at that.

    1. caucus99percenter

      German and EU elites seem to be almost finished replacing the Japan model of hard-working, community-minded but deplorably homogeneous northern Europe with the U.S. model of immigrants from everywhere out to milk systems and maximize benefit for themselves and their group’s parochial interests.

      Yes, this is the right-wing populists’ view, but when I contemplate the endpoint of where I have seen said elites steering the evolution of society in Germany and the Netherlands over the 45 years I’ve lived in Europe, it is hard to come to a different conclusion.

  16. David Jones

    Just been reading Piers Plowman the poem that provided a lot of ammunition for John Ball one of the leaders of the “Peasant’s Revolt” 1381. The Church sold “the will of god” to the rich in the form of indulgences.Looks like the rich replaced religion with neo-lib economists who explained that everything that happens is the will of the marketplace and our own position in it entirely our responsibility.What a neat change!

  17. ChrisRUEcon

    “So the question always becomes, what is the interface to, and what is the scope of business in, the essentials of society?”

    I can relate to this a lot, because it is a question I have asked myself about how best to make inroads against capitalist overreach. One has first to consider the scope of capitalism, and reducing its scope over the public good is the first and most necessary step. Until we get on grip on things like public housing, public transport and yes, something like a job guarantee, we’re not really being serious enough. Again, in this year of #OccupyWallStreet reminisce, building separate financial systems – not blockchain, you perverts! LOL – and using those as a wedge to separate establishment capital from that which seeks to usurp the status quo would be a wise course of action.

  18. Andy

    Post-Enlightenment, western political philosophy was still greatly influenced by Christianity and western liberalism’s universalist pretensions is a legacy of that. But it always was an illusion fuelled by European colonial expansion and, later, the post-WW2 spread of liberal capitalism across the globe.

    We are now at the beginning of the interregnum between the Euro-American world order and whatever comes next.

    Vladimir Putin sticking a spanner into the works of the “shock therapy” attempted economic colonization of Russia, the abject failure of the US and UK project to bring liberalism to Iraq and Afghanistan via the sword and a capitalist China that is not ever going to become a western client state despite being plugged into the global economy, signal the death knell of western liberal expansion.

    The entrenched elites in Washington, London and Brussels are having an extremely difficult time processing this but their knee jerk sabre rattling and hilariously quixotic “democracy promotion” is just desperate copium that won’t change the trajectory of history.

    How exactly that history will play out is almost impossible to predict as the climate change wildcard increasingly comes into play but there is no doubt that western prestige and influence is in terminal decline.

    The west’s Achilles heel is its refusal to learn from history and its inability to respect other cultures. Reading western media one gets the impression that Russia has only existed since 1991 and China since 1949. Islam is reduced to a series of cliches and is never acknowledged as a civilizational force in its own right and Africa is a big place with lots of natural resources and poor people but no distinctive cultures or countries.

    Western, particularly American, diplomacy, which prefers threats and ultimatums over give-and-take diplomacy, is actually shockingly disrespectful when considered from the receiving end. This is what led Sergei Lavrov, probably the world’s premier contemporary diplomat, to label America as “agreement incapable.”

    The west’s ill fated turn to globalized neoliberalism and oligarchy, the breakdown of the western global order after 9/11, the looming climate catastrophes and China and Russia putting western expansionism in check and pushing back against western cultural hegemony are having a profound effect on liberalism and western society.

    The disastrous response to Covid, the popularity of simplistic conspiracy theories (over political and economic analysis and as propaganda tools), the pseudo-politicizing of absolutely everything and a large section of the western public losing trust in government and institutions are all symptoms of these changes.

    It’s difficult to comprehensively analyze these things and draw definitive conclusions as we are still very much in the midst of them, and will be for some time, but I think it’s safe to say that the post-1945 era is over. Unfortunately it’s also likely that the world will within the next 50 to 100 years experience another period of cataclysmic violence and mass death. Kind of a downer but until humanity evolves out of its homicidal ape phase that’s how it goes.

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      What a great geopolitical summary. That’s the macro picture.

      I observe the macro level (the elephants dancing). More relevantly, I _operate_ at the micro level.

      A very big open question is “how will the micro respond to that macro situation?”. To date, the more aware micro-folk:

      a. observe, analyze, and comment in order to build a more-accurate macro-level situational analysis. That’s why we come to NC

      b. Postulate a very-wide range of responses that we demand/want/hope for at that macro level. As has been repeatedly demonstrated, we have nearly zero influence at the macro-level

      c. Then we … ?

      We remain stuck.

  19. drumlin woodchuckles

    Public spiritedness wasn’t “lost”. It was very carefully burndowned at the national ( and many states) level by the Public Enemies in Command and Authority over society with every form of psychosocial Roundup at their command.

    There are still some states and some smaller geographic jurisdictions where the Enemies of the Public haven’t been able to destroy and sterilize all vestiges of public spiritedness just yet. People who recognize themselves and eachother to be public spirited people living in a relict Public Spiritedness Zone should focus on armor-plating their zone and creating their own little micro-public spiritedness survival lifeboat micro-economies/ micro-societies as best they can. If they can inspire any sympathetic and/or interested onlookers to adopt the same outlook and methods, then they can perhaps help in the adoption and application.

    Otherwise, they should hide their existence as best they can from the ever questing forces of anti-public anti-spiritedness who live to search and destroy every surviving area of public spiritedness they can find.

    People who uphold the spirit of Public Spiritedness will have to figure out how to hide in plain sight and reach eachother by “long distance Vulcan Mind-Meld” methods. They will have to grow and entrench the Green BetterCulture in the gaps and spaces between the AshenSoot WorseCulture seething and surging all around them. They will have to be like the Earliest Christians within the Roman Empire . . . . except “this” Roman Empire serves and worships the hungry cannibal gods in ways that Imperial Rome could never imagine. That is the mortal danger facing every public-spiritedness person who is visible to the Establishment Eye,.

  20. The Rev Kev

    I suppose that “the State” has now become our bottleneck for our needs and wants to a large degree. A year or two ago I was researching fraternal societies in Australia (family history research leads you down some strange byways) and in the 19th century, they were everywhere. There were a variety of them like ‘The Ancient Order of Foresters’ and ‘The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows’ as well as the Masons. You would put in a regular contribution and attended the meetings for fellowship as well as making social contacts, and they would help you if you were unemployed, got sick or even died-


    But soon after Australia Federated, the new government brought in things like ‘a national aged pension under the Invalid and Old-Aged Pensions Act 1908, the national invalid disability pension in 1910, and a national maternity allowance introduced in 1912. After that the wind was taken out of the sails of those fraternal societies and they started to wither as “the State” now took care of people when they were in need. But those social bonds also went away too.

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      Rev: What’s stopping us from re-forming social bonds, with a similar or entirely different goal-set?
      It’s never been easier to communicate.

      There’s something else in the way.

      One of the unspoken realities of functioning in a social group is that “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down” and “small towns are often intellectually suffocating”.

      There’s a good reason people left small towns in favor of cities, and it’s not just better income. They left to get some breathing room, and a place to evolve an identity different from what was permitted “at home”.

      Maybe the place to focus the discussion about “where’d the commons go?” is:

      “what would the function/purpose of a group have to be, what would the give-get deal be, that would induce you to join and invest (effort, time, attention, money) in that group?”

      And to Drumlin above, I support what you’re advocating. Here’s a way, a place to start, to operationalize your ideas. What’s the mission statement for this new place to build a commons?

  21. Soredemos

    Just to throw this out there, but perhaps most Japanese won’t give a straight answer because they don’t really have one. Most people, everywhere, are politically incoherent. Most people don’t really know or understand much politically, and what political views they do have tend to be half-formed and all over the spectrum. Perhaps not getting a straight answer is just a Japanese version of saying “I dunno”.

    On top of that, in the Japanese context the country has essentially been a one-party fake democracy for over sixty years. Political idealism gets beaten out of people very quickly there. The last big public flowering of political will in Japan were the absolutely massive protests against the US-Japan ‘security’ treaty in 1960. In the end they literally amounted to nothing; the government simply ignored them, and did what it wanted. Police were deployed inside the Diet to bar opposition votes, and the treaty was forced through. Yes, a Prime Minister resigned as a sacrificial lamb, but in the end the government ignored the people, did what it wanted, and simply got away with it. They weren’t even voted out in the next election (or the one after that, or the one after that, or…that same conservative party has run the country non-stop except for two brief periods ever since). Ten years later there were again large (though much smaller) protests against renewal of the treaty, which were again simply ignored.

    My perception is that most people in Japan have just tuned out the whole issue of government, at least on a national level. Since the government can essentially just not even pretend to listen to people, what’s the point of worrying about it? Just leave the few thousand aging weirdos who actually run the country to their business.

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