The value of values: The economics of freedom
My mother died last October at 93. She taught English and social studies (history and civics) at E.C. Goodwin Tech in New Britain, retiring in 1989. Recently my sister and I were packing her books for donation. I found a monograph among them. The year was 1978 and this was a mailing sponsored by the Standard Oil Company. It was the start of a propaganda and indoctrination campaign in support of Milton Friedman’s supply-side/trickle-down, neo-liberal economic policies implemented by President Ronald Reagan and utilized by both parties since. Here is a quote from the monograph that is the philosophical foundation of trickle-down:
… “with ignorance and misunderstanding about the relationship between moral values and economic systems… moral values are individual; they are not collective. Moral values have to do with what each of us separately believes and holds to be true – what our own individual values are.” ~ Milton Friedman
While he was using the context of socialism (which he wrongly equates with communism) versus capitalism, essentially he said that “moral values” do not apply in business and government; that morals are personal and apply only in our personal lives (with friends and family). This means that there is no need for conscience, responsibility for and accountability to the collective. What’s fascinating about this is that both the right and left try to impose their “morals” on everyone else. Look around. This is why we are where we are.
From this belief — that morals don’t apply in business and government — came the idea that the purpose of corporations is to make money without constraints. From here it was easy to sell the theory of supply-side economics.
However, the original, historical purpose of corporations was to provide societal benefits and also to provide revenue to the government; the focus on the profit motive came later. The theory that trickle-down will stimulate the economy has been proven wrong; it simply moves more wealth to those who already are wealthy and generates the gross inequity that we see today.
The problem is that political agendas are not morals; they are based in beliefs and opinions, not truth. We have replaced human morality and values with economic-political ideologies and agendas and religious rules focused on consumption, profits and power. This neo-liberal ideology, which was nothing more than Friedman’s opinion, has been pushed for 40 years, for nearly two generations by both parties. It gives politicians and corporate executives license to exploit and manipulate people and the system for personal gain. It excuses our politicians and executives from any kind of accountability for their choices and actions, for the implications and consequences to our society and the quality of our lives.
What Friedman neglected is that it is our shared, core (inner) human values are the foundation of relationships for a functional, productive society. This is evident in our political landscape both in Hartford and Washington, D.C. We ignore as irrelevant economic and political equality and equity, shared power and justice for the dignity and well-being of everyone which human morality would create.
Instead we have a culture that values wealth, status and power with every person for themselves and no one else. While we are each unique and have a unique contribution to make, the truth is that we are in this life together. Our external appearances have replaced standing for our inner character as human beings. Morals/values are the deeper and higher intelligence of honesty, ethics, integrity, wisdom, empathy, and compassion, of care, understanding and respect so that all thrive. This is what it means to lead, which is the public face of love. This is our common ground as human beings. Its absence is why our public policy and our social structures are failing and collapsing instead of everyone thriving.
You might say that these (honesty, ethics…) are “virtues.” These are actually hard-wired into our brain physiology once we get above the reptilian brain of fight, flight, freeze, and fawn and they are required for collaboration that enables survival. They are literally what make us human and invite insight, inspiration and innovation in connection with others.
We have been taught not to value them or our own humanity. We have normalized immorality which has corrupted our societal-economic-political system. We’ve made our personal value contingent upon our wealth, status and power, not our humanity. We continue to tie our future to the status quo and amplification of our past. We’ve made capitalism predatory and parasitic, inhuman and inhumane, when it could be used for good. Our neo-liberal economic policies are based in immorality.
Both conservative and liberal “values” are nothing more than external rules to maintain the status quo of the wealth and power structure. Republicans and Democrats are more alike than different: Both follow along with Friedman’s neo-liberal “principles” which have put us here.
So what does this mean in practical terms for what is before us?
Connecticut’s economic policy has been bullied on many fronts which our elected officials have fostered and facilitated. Corporations such as GE, Aetna, Dominion, etc., bullied and extorted tax concessions and special considerations to ensure that they maximize their profits at the expense of the public good. This actually limits their viability and growth as corporations confront the reality of decaying infrastructure and substandard education that they have created. State employee unions have bullied the system to maintain their own power. We continue to set the example for our children that bullying, ridicule, and insults are acceptable strategies to get what we want and to keep what we get.
The tax cuts enacted by Congress are immoral. They are a direct transfer of wealth and power to corporations and the elite at our personal and nation’s expense. They are increasing the deficit, debt that will hamstring us and our children. They are premeditated murder of the poor, elderly and disabled. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have already said that they are going to cut/gut Social Security and Medicare to “balance the budget.”
Social Security and Medicare are funded with our own money through payroll taxes, so this is theft. Corporations such as Walmart and McDonalds utilize public assistance for their employees as part of their business profitability model, doing everything they can to avoid paying taxes while using taxpayer money. Tax avoidance by corporations or individuals is immoral. It says that we don’t value or respect ourselves, one another, our citizenship, or contributing to the common good of dignity and well-being for all.
Deregulation that is destructive of our food, water, environment, etc. and that undermines the safety, security, health, livelihood, etc. and so the well-being and survival of anyone is immoral.
Our school system is about conformity and compliance to maintain the status quo. Real education means we learn how to learn and think, how to challenge our thinking and beliefs and expand our perspectives, how to challenge the status quo and free ourselves from cultural programming, how to integrate new knowledge and apply it in innovative ways, how lead our lives with human morals, ethics and integrity, not what labels, ideologies, agendas, and rules tell us to do. Education is learning who you are as a human being and bringing all of you to life with insight and inspiration. Leaders educate and unite, not indoctrinate and separate.
Immorality in our social structures of business, government and education is the root cause of our epidemic of addictions, overdoses and suicides as many try to cope with and escape the seeming hopelessness of our inhuman experience. Every human being innately needs purpose and meaning, connection and contribution, self-determination and choice, and growth and actualization. Addiction is the result of loss of a sense of connection. We have become disconnected from ourselves as human beings, one another, and our will to live.
The immorality of the system is a result of our refusal to take personal accountability for and have the courage to individually enact our human morality throughout our society.
Yes, there will be many readers who will dismiss me and this as “liberal” with a sarcastic “Good luck.” This is about being liberated, not controlled by our cultural patriarchal power paradigm and partisan programming. Human morality and values are our ultimate freedom both as individuals and as a society.
Beliefs create our reality and experience and our experiences shape our beliefs. Most of us just say, “This is the way things are.” Wrong. WE created this. WE can change it, hopefully before we have a catastrophic failure. This is what personal responsibility and accountability mean. We are watching a crisis of identity, purpose, value and worth. Time is up.
Human morals are universal laws that apply in every situation for every gender, race, religion, and nationality. Morals mean we enact a level playing field for food, shelter, healthcare, and education. As we all live our shared human values which are the foundation of unity, we won’t need regulations or even compromise. There would be agreement on what is best for universal justice, dignity and well-being. Without our collective morality of shared human values, there is no common ground, there is no growth or innovation, there is no human progress. This means social enlightenment AND fiscal restraint. This is the paradigm shift that we must all commit to. Leaders are those who are willing to be catalysts and facilitators of this shift. Morality is leadership; leadership is morality.
Bottom-line: Without enacting human morals in all aspects of our lives, we are not “patriots.” We do not support the intent or letter of the Constitution which details what our morality as human beings looks like as a nation. We devastate people’s lives and destroy liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Morals enable freedom, liberty and justice for all.
Friedman was wrong. Let’s learn from our past, wise up and send his false theories and notions into the dustbins of history. Morals matter.
Lucira Nebelung is the founder of Leading As Love in Niantic.
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