Tuesday, December 17, 2019

"Growing Pains" as seen by Gwynne Dyer

There are a lot of relevant examples of his points, but "Growing Pains" boils down to the main problem in the world is inequality and a possible solution is a Universal Basic Income."  This is very similar to a speaking session held at the Hamilton Public Library in 2017 at about the same time he was working on the
 book:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/04/gwynne-dyer.html

A focus was on Donald Trump who Gwynne sees like the canary in the coal mine.  How did this happen?  Where should we go from here?

After looking at many details he concludes Trump, better than anyone captured the frustration of many Americans.  He didn't address the real problems, but understood the anger.  As it happens he did not need to mobilize a majority, but tack on the disaffected to the regular Republican voters and even then needed help from the Electoral College and Russians.

Of all the major industrial nations United States has the greatest degree of inequality. They are also the only one of this group not to have a national health plan.  Like all nations they have been increasing automation which is a major factor in inequality as while productivity has increased the gains have been distributed to the already wealthy. 

Brexit and U.S election were at least partially decided by fears of immigration.  Dyer points out those areas with the greatest percentage of immigrants voted to stay in the EU or to the Democrats whereas those with the least percentage of immigrants feared it the most and voted to leave the EU or voted for the Republicans.

Another area of global concern was North Korea and Iran's involvement with nuclear weapons.  Gwynne who has a military background maintains that neither country is a threat to America, but each is concerned with their neighbors. Iran borders a nuclear nation, Pakistan and also with Iraq who at one time also had a nuclear weapons program.  They also fear Saudi Arabia and the United States.  North Korea is concerned by China and more directly American involvement in South Korea.  Gwynne feels both nations realize if they initiated a nuclear attack they would be obliterated. 

No solution that ignores human nature would be effective.  Dyer consulted with Franz de Waal, a famous specialist in primates.  They are studying primate behavior and noting that all primates, excluding humans are inequal, authoritarian and prone to violence.  In some ways not a lot different than modern man.  However it seems likely that hunter-gatherers, who predated organized agriculture were grouped in numbers between 100 to 200 with everyone knowing everyone.  It is believed that they were able to be equalitarian.  Ambitious members were held in check limiting their power to specific expertise.

As with dozens of books I have read the big change comes with the development of agriculture  For the first time humans gathered in thousands and even up to millions.  There was no check on ambitions and men (not likely women) were able to develop a hierarchy which means inequality got started.

What helped democracy develop in western nations was improved communications with an early breakthrough was with the Gutenberg printing press.  Ideas were no longer exclusively coming from the top, but spread more evenly.  In the United States they achieved the highest rate of literacy.  Thomas Paine published in 1776 a pamphlet, "Common Sense" which sold 120,000 copies within 3 months and likely read by at least a million people with a total population of about 2.4 million.

After WWII the Keynesian economic model worked well allowing the economy to be increase while decreasing inequality.  In the 1970's under the leadership of Ronald Reagan the economic models shifted to Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman with a concern about inflation.  Productivity gain profits also started to shift to the top10%.

When we get to the 2016 election, Trump was not the only one to attract attention to frustrated voters, but Bernie Sanders was not successful in the Democratic primaries.  Previously most of the time the winning candidate would get most of the votes of their rivals, but in this case many Sanders supporters in the rust belt states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania chose Trump instead of Hillary helping with the margin of the Trump victory.  It is also estimated that Trump got free $5 billion worth of coverage by being newsworthy.  

The Universal Basic Income is a possible solution.  One of the problems with a basic income program or  other welfare measures is  they convey stigmatization.  Those receiving income feel humiliation and in truth the rest of us tend to look down on them.   Make it universal with billionaires also receiving it makes it more acceptable and easier to administer.  For those who have other income it may well raise them to higher tax bracket and that would help pay for it, even without raising tax rates.   Studies with limited examples have demonstrated there is minimal reduction in willingness to work.

Gwynne also discusses the possible loss of meaning that comes from working.  He points out that many people do not work right now and have found activities to fill in the missing work time.  He acknowledges that some of them might be drinking more beer and/or watching more television.   In the past society has accepted leisure activities of the rich, but not so for the poor.  Our attitudes towards leisure may take time to change, but Gwynne feels there will be improvements over time.

There can be adjustments to allow for cost of living in different geographic areas, disabilities, children, etc.  Gwynne recognizes that the idea might not work but it needs to be tested and if found insufficient, alternatives need to be found.

Automation will ensure a very high unemployment rate which will result in either a major redistribution of income or a revolution.  High employment also means consumption will decrease further economic stress.

Gwynne Dyer writes about important matters in an easy to understand format including a few laughts along the way.   One quote from the author:  "History is not cyclical.  There is such a thing as progress."  If you are not fortunate enough to have access to one of the over 100 newspapers with Gwynn's twice weekly column you can catch up at his web site:  http://www.gwynnedyer.com

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