March 2011 Archives
The title speaks for itself, so I shouldn't have to do much explaining, but I thought you all would be interested in browsing through BBC World's photo album of the day, especially since it pertains so well to our class's overarching theme.
The Economist has put together a really neat tool they've dubbed the "
I think it gets us through each day. We go to bed trusting our alarm clock will go off. We get up for class trusting our professors will be there too. We cross the street, trusting others will obey the traffic laws. But what happens when that trust is broken? Sure, these mundane events are simple examples, but what happens when our government breaks our trust? Or our banks? Our employers?
Carl Richards quoted a retiree in his New York Times blog, "Buck." He said, "The heart of the problem is the rapid change that has left Americans confused, disoriented and struggling to adapt." Richards went on, "Institutions we believed were worth trusting, like our employers, banks and states, have made changes that undermine that trust."
It's no wonder that public trust in government has been diminishing year after year. Those bonds broken are hard to repair, and to a society that looks to advance- always looking toward their neighbor in envious comparison- trust in that dream. It matters. Trust in an America where this is possible gets us through the day. Does America as we know it end when this bond of trust can no longer sustain the sense of entitlement most Americans feel today? How do these sentiments affect our participation? What will happen to today's democracy? What would Tocqueville say?
Last weekend, I was thrilled to see Nickelodeon's smart and hilarious cartoon flick, Rango. Although the film has been largely marketed to young audiences, it is far more grown-up than its "PG" rating would suggest. I encourage you all to check it out, either in theaters or when it is available for rental. The film tells the tale of a thespian lizard who undergoes an existential crisis. Rango, a tropical-shirt sporting chameleon, is violently expelled from his comfortable but unfulfilling plastic aquarium existence (his point of departure, Toqueville might say). Looking to satiate both a physical and existential thirst, Rango treks through the harsh desert to the draught-stricken town of "Dirt," where he reinvents himself into a tough, murderous Westerner. In his most challenging role yet, Rango is appointed Sheriff. Because of a series of coincidences and mishaps that reinforce his lofty self-portrayal, Rango becomes a hero and a legend among the townsfolk. Eager to live up to his reputation, Rango vows to save the town by investigating the mysterious causes behind the vanishing water supply. The citizens of Dirt, thirsty and impoverished, take on a mob mentality and begin to accuse one another in a sort of witch-trial (the tyranny of the majority in action). The natural resources crisis seems to have been manufactured or worsened by some corrupt individual, but who? and for what personal gain? (don't worry, I won't spoil the end of the movie).
In many ways, the film reminded me of contemporary American politics. Like Wally, Rango is a light-hearted portrayal of a real social and political problem. The message is clear: those who control scant natural resources wield a great amount of control over people. Those in power, those who own a monopoly on a commodity, might manipulate supply and demand in order to coerce or even oppress a population. While Rango focuses on a scarcity of water, the same principle could be applied to other in-demand natural resources, like oil. I began to consider the ways in which Americans are at the mercy of those who control fuel. Since Americans rely on gasoline to fuel commerce and daily life, they are especially vulnerable to manipulative forces. Rango is a cautionary tale; it warns us of the danger of relying on natural resources where they are scant. But the solution to this problem is less evident. No sooner will Americans shed their dependence on oil than will animals learn to live without water. Corruption and greed will persist. Though the conflict is resolved in the film, it's only a temporary fix. It is for this reason that I left the theater feeling less-than-optimistic. The best we can do, it seems, is strive for independence and place our trust in honest political leaders.
What do you guys think about the natural resource dilemma? Did anyone else find political relevance in Rango, or am I reading too much into the Nickelodeon cartoon?
The New York Times asked several academics to comment on rising inequality and why Americans do or do not seem bothered by it. Check out today's Room for Debate discussion for their thoughts.
(I had trouble loading the second article, so the URL is provided..)
Two articles appeared in the Star Tribune business section back in January. The first article, posted by Harvard professor Bill George highlights Milton Friedman's influence on the American economic landscape during the 20th century, and how it has significantly contributed to America's current recession. The second article is a response to Professor George's article, authored by a Minnesota CEO, Howard Root, in which he critiques Professor George's assessment of Friedman economics on the current American economic landscape. Root dismisses Professor George's claims, noting how he often misrepresents Friedman and how Professor George's critiques do not account for Friedman's calls for rules and regulations to govern business practices.
What is perhaps most perplexing about Mr. Root's argument is his assertion that Friedman economics requires players (CEO's) to play within a certain parameters. One of my favorite silver screen moments comes from the 1957 Academy Award Winning flick Bridge on the River Kwai. Alec Guinness (who plays Obi One Kenobi in the original Star Wars Trilogy) is a World War II British Prisoner of War commander who attempts to inform the Japanese POW commandant of the "rules" under the Geneva Convention governing the proper treatment of Prisoners of War. Before Guinness finishes his sentence, the Japanese commandant slaps him across the face, snapping, "rules, what rules? This is war!!!"
I think corporate CEO's live by a similar code. Mr. Root and Mr. Friedman may be more correct in their assertion that corporations must play by the rules if government and regulators operated as objective, disinterested arbitrators. But they don't. Corporations bring in business. They create jobs and capital that communities rely upon. Furthermore, many government officials, including Dick Cheaney, possess financial stakes, often as owners or shareholders, in a corporation's success. If governments and regulators are compromised by corporate interest, and if a corporation's only constituency is its shareholders, than who's looking out for Middle America? It is simple---no one.
Yet people insist they want smaller government. They assert, with justification, that government can't be trusted. But doesn't this simply insulate corporations? With the bailouts of large financial firms, many of whom were responsible for the financial crisis, it seems as though a certain segment of society can act with impunity, insulated from the repercussions while the majority of rule following Americans end up financially broke. Yet we protect them, as if we were protecting ourselves. Why?As the middle class continues to struggle, with jobs in the public sector disappearing, and with private institutions gaining power as unions and organized labor are continually phased out, it is important to consider what, if anything can be done to stem this seemingly negative trend. I believe a paradigm shift is needed. Our interests are simply not aligned with corporate execs. Let's ensure, as Professor George champions, that corporations abide by a mandate. Let's ensure that our government officials and regulators are not compromised---that they are acting in the best interest of majority and not those of the oligarchs and aristocrats.
In class we've had a lot of discussion about both Dalton's notion of a new generation practicing engaged citizenship, and about different ways to counter rising inequality in the US. I wondered whether the values inherent in engaged citizenship, when playing out in the private sphere, would make redistribution through charities a viable alternative to government action in addressing the income gap.
I found a site called The Chronicle of Philanthropy that tracks news about nonprofits in the US, where they had posted some statistics from March 2010 comparing the charitable donations of four generations: Generation Y, Generation X, The Baby Boomers, and the Matures (also sometimse known as the GI Generation). http://philanthropy.com/article/How-Americans-of-Different/64790/
Some trends: The older generations are more likely to donate their money, and they do so in larger amounts (which is understandable, since many Gen Y's are still in school). On the other hand, the younger generations are more likely to donate their time. One example: Gen. Y's and X's participate in walk/run fundraisers, while Boomers and Matures sponser them. Or, the younger generations choose to organize and volunteer charitable events, while the older generations attend them.
Another trend is that the older generations seem to prefer traditional methods of giving (over the phone or by mail) while the younger generations feel comfortable going online to give, often through the use of social networking sites.
These statistics only compare the different contributions of the generations at the same point in time, however. I went to another site, for the Corporation for National and Community Service, to find a (rather rough) data table that compares the volunteer service of the same age groups over time (1974-2005). http://www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/06_1203_volunteer_growth_data.pdf
In 1974, the Baby Boomer Generation would have encompassed the first two age groups listed (ages 16-24). Generation X and Generation Y encompassed the same two age groups in 1989 and 2005, respectively. Comparing these generations at the same age, we find that while Generation X experienced a lapse in its drive to volunteer, Generation Y is volunteering at higher rates than the Baby Boomers.
Finally, I went back to the Philanthropy site to look at The Top 20 Fund-Raising Charities from 1991 and 2010. http://philanthropy.com/article/The-Top-20-Fund-Raising/124963/ I wanted to see if changing citizenship values were reflected in the succees of America's top charities, and I found that over the last decade many more international charities have made the list, as opposed to charities that support nationalism or American's special interests. Could this be a reflection of younger generations' more global perspectives, or is that overstating the relationship?
According to this article in the New York Times, higher numbers of recent college graduates are taking jobs in the nonprofit sector. While this may be a product of the economic downturn and a lack of private sector jobs, I see it as possible evidence in support of engaged citizenship and as a way to combat individualism.
Democratic sympathy and solidarity runs through the veins of the "millennial generation." As the article states, this generation is more concerned with making a difference than simply earning a paycheck. Tocqueville worried that democracy could lead to despotism through two routes: materialism or individualism. Both materialism and individualism can lead a person to withdrawal from the public life, or as the Mass Society Theory would say, individuals would be unconnected and estranged from each other.
Since most new college grads can be considered as adherents
of engaged citizenship, I see their decisions to work in the non-profit sector
as a way to improve living conditions for people in areas where the government
does not step in. In doing so, they are creating meaningful connections with people and feeling empathy for their fellow citizens. Thus, they combat the Mass Society Theory.
I suggested in class
that the McCall and Kenworthy article neglected to mention any desire for
increased private sector action, such as increased services - and I think that
idea fits well here. People need jobs,
the non-profit sector is hiring, and the non-profit sector takes care of areas
that the government feel are not its jurisdiction. If government action is inadequate, maybe we should come to rely more on the non-profit sector to slowly change
our society for the better (and I'm not saying that we haven't already been doing this for years).
Am I reaching too far on this? What do you think?
The first being two acceptance speeches at the Oscars this past Sunday. During these speeches, when the winners (forgive me if I'm not 100% on who exactly they were) were thanking their film crew, they made it clear that the crew was a union crew. Both times at the mention of the phrase "union crew" there was mild applause from the audience. I guess maybe Page and Jacobs were on to something. High-income film industry people do care about the lower class and their rights to unionize! What a nice moment.
The second being Stephen Colbert's "The Word" segment on his Tuesday's broadcast. Colbert talked about income disparities and even brought up The Atlantic article we discussed in class. Now normally I'm sure it's just in bad taste to post a Stephen Colbert video on really what is a professional and academic blog we got going here. But my goodness is this video so incredibly topical on what we just discussed this past Tuesday, I actually watched the show's credits to see if someone from class contributed. In the video, Stephen talks about what Americans can do about the income inequalities. Although he suggests ideas that Page and Jacobs also suggested, such as just ignoring the disparities, Colbert suggests some not so mainstream ideas such as the top 1% of America forming their own country called America Plus. Now obviously Colbert's ideas are so new they have yet to be peer reviewed, so hopefully no one will go using this as a credible source...
The link for the show is posted below. And I will warn you, the first little segment about a pie eating contest (thank you Stand By Me) is fairly crass, but I promise if you stick with it, it gets better.
Colbert Report - The Word - New Country for Old Men