Sunday, December 17, 2017

We Were Eight Year's in Power

Donald Trump is adamant--the Obama years were a "disaster."  Objectively that seems ridiculous, but for some people it masks a streak of racism in America.

Ta-Nehisi Coates articulates the view that racism is firmly established in America.  His title actually comes from an earlier time after the Civil War at the time of Reconstruction when in South Carolina, blacks for an 8 year term had real power and were able to accomplish some constructive things.  Their feats were dismissed, twisted and mocked.  Despite a lot of problems and maybe some justified criticisms Obama did accomplish a number of things in his eight years that made Americans better off, but the legacy is being deliberately destroyed.

The book contains essays that were first published in The Atlantic over an eight year period, but each is preceded by some personal context.  Coates is very introspective continuously trying to determine his own motives.  As with most of us his thought evolves.  The articles by themselves advance his career.

To those who believe the evils of slavery are history with no consequences you should read my post on "The Half has never been told.  Coates brings up a wide range or statistics that prove his point, but he makes an honest effort to be balanced.

Coates points out that Americans love to tell the world about how important freedom is and how they are so great because of democracy, but in fact their freedom and economic growth was largely based on land stolen from natives and slave labour.  The Greeks also owed part of their democracy to slavery that allowed the elite to ponder the decisions of the day.  While Coates and other blacks contend the bigger problem is racism they have to contend with the notion that class is a more critical problem.

Reparations are discussed, even trying to figure out an amount, but concedes nearly impossible to impose.  The established whites overlook how they accumulated their power.  Income is important, but accumulating wealth gives more choices.  One way of accumulating wealth has been through housing.  Blacks were deliberately obstructed in trying to build wealth in this manner.  Today affirmative action is attacked as if everyone really has the same opportunity.

Another way to advance oneself is through families.  The slaveholder mentality carried on even after the Civil War when whites found excuses to incarcerate blacks and turn them into cheap labour.  In more modern times blacks still easily run afoul of the law and are disproportionately incarcerated.  This continues to force families to survive often with the breadwinner in jail.  Coates points out how this aggravates an already difficult situation.

He feels Obama was in a very unique position to be the first black president.  He lived a life with loving white grandparents and was given opportunities to advance his education.  Obama felt it was not politic to criticize whites for past injustices, but to appeal to their better nature.  Do not be a threat.  Earlier in the book he talked about Bill Cosby who became a very popular tv star and perhaps encouraged more whites to accept blacks.  Of course Cosby's name is derided now, but by not being threatening he became very successful.  Later he became very critical of fellow blacks who he felt were not doing the right things.

Obama and Seth Myers joked at the expense of Donald Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner.   Some observers felt the humiliation is what motivated Trump to run for president and not merely replace Obama, but to destroy his legacy.  Too many whites found it difficult to accept that a black man could make a significant contribution to America.  Now the whole world suffers.

Coates ends his book with:  "I see the fight against sexism, racism, poverty and even war finding their union not in synomity, but in their ultimate goal--a world more humane."

To learn more about the author, Ta-Nihisi Coates check his website

Monday, December 4, 2017

A world of three zeros

We in the rich part of the world don't usually seek advice from poorer parts of the world, but Mohammad Yunnus, the Nobel Peace prize winner from Bangladesh has good credentials.   To some he might seem naive, but in fact he has operated under very difficult circumstances and accomplished what some feel are miracles.

Yunnus was educated inn Bangladesh and the United states becoming  teacher and at one point saw a need of poor women in rural Bangladesh.  Using his resources he started loaning small amounts of money with no collateral.  He established the Grameen Bank in 1983 and it has been replicated in over 100 countries  Surprisingly the rate of re-payment was over 97%.  It turned around local economies and over time got global attention.

Capitalism is worshipped by many people, but if we are honest it has problems.  Under its frame it is inevitable that despite all efforts to restrain it, it leads to income inequality.  It is not hard to see why when you consider that rich people tend to set the rules, a process you can witness with the United States Congress.  It is true that in general most people are better off than people of a century ago, but the gains have been very uneven and many would argue not as closely linked to merit as would be ideal.  Yunnus doesn't think the problem is so much distribution as underlying premises.

One of the academic foundations of capitalism is "The Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith, written in 1776.  It rationalizes capitalism declaring it is only by catering to the will of what people want that gives us the beauty of free market business.  Not noted as much is another book by the same Adam Smith, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments."  Yunnus quotes Smith, "How selfish soever man may be supposed there are evidence some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortunes of others and render them happiness necessary to him though he drivers nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it."  Self interest is too often interpreted to mean profit or selfishness, but could be expanded to include our long term collective happiness.

The three zeros that form the author's goal are zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions.  Might seem the goals are in conflict, the author maintains they reinforce one another.

Social business is defined as meeting a need, developing sustainability, but not great profits.  Sustainability is necessary and Yunnus discusses some examples of how has worked.  One project was Haiti Forest to remedy the great need for forestation.  Money was brought in by the Clinton foundation and Branson Virgin Unite, but is generating benefits through jobs and an improved environment.  They plant one million trees per year.

Another project was in Colombia and involved McCain noted for potatoes in Canada.  One concern was the number of potatoes that were misshapen and ended up being wasted.  Researchers looked for ways to turn these ugly vegetables into something useful  One solution was to use them for soup.

Good governance is essential.  One function Yunnus feels is credible elections.  Criteria should be set up and might be enforced by the United Nations.  Some nations have already sought the services of groups such as the one started by Jimmy Carter that give their election greater acceptance.

Corruption is identified as a critical obstacle.  Yunnus posits that transparency engineered with technology is one tool and another is education.  I think both ideas have merit, but corruption is very basic to humans.  A movie has dealt with the inevitably of corruption and also one hero's solution.  You might want to explore the notion:

Yunnus feels the future will be shaped by today's youth, many of whom reject both capitalism and socialism.  They are better educated, diverse and globally connected.  The poor will have to be involved.  Almost always they are at the end of technological developments

The purpose of life on this planet is not merely to survive, but live in it with grace, beauty and happiness.  It is up to us to make it happen.  We ca create a new civilization based not on greed, button the full range of human values.  Let's begin to-day."

John Maynard Keynes once said that the only purpose (of economics) is so that people could live "wisely, agreeably and well." He didn't restrict that to the rich, but felt income inequality was part of the problem. One of his most famous quotes is " the long run we are all dead."  Read more about Keyes at:

To me an economic system has to be based on human nature and human aspirations.

Ayn Rand is often thought of as the high priestess of selfishness, but she did make one point I agree with which is that we should think long term more than short term of our interests.  Unfortunately I don't believe she thought about it in enough depth.

I do recommend the book. There are lots of ideas and experiences to ponder.   If such ideas are not examined and discussed there is little hope for humankind.