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After I Lived in Norway, America Felt Backward. Here’s Why.

Discussion in 'Coffee Break and Community Discussion Forum' started by Sidney Vianna, Jan 29, 2016.

  1. Sidney Vianna

    Sidney Vianna Well-Known Member

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    http://www.thenation.com/article/after-i-lived-in-norway-america-felt-backward-heres-why/

    "....He believes, he added, in “a society where all people do well. Not just a handful of billionaires.” That certainly sounds like Norway. For ages, they’ve worked at producing things for the use of everyone—not the profit of a few—so I was all ears, waiting for Sanders to spell it out for Americans.
    But Hillary Clinton quickly countered, “We are not Denmark.” Smiling, she said, “I love Denmark,” and then delivered a patriotic punch line: “We are the United States of America.” ..." Silly Hillary....not realizing that, consistently, Scandinavian people consider themselves much, much, happier than Americans....What do you want in life? accumulate stuff, feeling always unhappy for the things you can't afford or, be happy?
     
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  2. Jennifer Kirley

    Jennifer Kirley Moderator Staff Member

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    Americans have been trained to want stuff; reinforcement is presented all the time in advertising.

    Americans are also instructed to accept the idea that doing more work shows good character. Ergo, having more money because of more work means positive reinforcement of good character; the message is driven in terms of "Those guys work hard, they deserve their money" (as though they work 186 times as hard as I do?)

    Additionally, Americans have been fed a steady drumbeat of "rugged individualism is better" while someone simultaneously laments the family structure breaking down, social groups needing to support each other more etc. Individuals are told we are responsible for what happens to us. If we do not have enough money for retirement, we should not have had that cell phone or new purse or pair of sneakers.

    I could go on but I am trying to avoid being political.
     
  3. MarkMeer

    MarkMeer Well-Known Member

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    This sentiment is sadly all too common. Why is "being political" something to be avoided? Does it boil down to simple conflict-aversion? If so, how can we ever expect people to actually think about and discuss issues?
    (though I'll give you the benefit of doubt and assume it's just because it's the Quality Forum ;))

    Maybe I too should avoid politics on this forum:) ...but I can't resist:

    With respect to "We are not Denmark": Hillary's eye-rolling patriotic political pandering aside, I don't see why this statement is so absurd.
    Culture, demographics, history, and populations ARE important. The idea that simply mimicking political systems elements from one country will translate into the same outcomes in a very different country is, in my opinion, fundamentally irrational.
    ...not to mention correlation and causation issues when it comes to assessing things like happiness.
     
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  4. Sidney Vianna

    Sidney Vianna Well-Known Member

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    It is not absurd, but, evokes the stupid notion of the exceptionalism of the USA. No sane person would think we should mimic anything that has been forged over centuries elsewhere, but we should LEARN that other CAPITALIST societies have been able to tame income and wealth inequality, while providing fair and just general access to great-quality education, healthcare, job security and general well-being of the population.

    Most Americans are so oblivious of what happens elsewhere, they can't fathom other countries where the people is, by far, much, much happier, despite the fact they have less material possessions.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2016
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  5. Jennifer Kirley

    Jennifer Kirley Moderator Staff Member

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    I am happy enough to be political but wanted to keep it at less than a boil because it's the Quality Forum, yes. :)

    The statement may not be absurd, but it is escapist; it is enabling things to lurch along on their present slide, where they just can't. We have something to learn from Denmark, and a lot of other people too, but it is true our top leadership cleaves to exceptionalism - I believe in order to get people to go along with things the way they want, with a minimum of pushback. It evokes an emotional response and acceptance, as religion does for so many people.

    There's an idea that capitalism must naturally have winners and losers. I do agree it isn't ideal to have everyone earn the same, but our system has run amok and can't continue unless some of the wealth and income imbalance is corrected.
     
  6. Eric Twiname

    Eric Twiname Well-Known Member

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    I don't know where the bounds of "political" are, I would consider the discussion sociological, myself. I suppose the concepts have a lot of overlap...

    I agree with both above statements, but hasten to point out that the next step (if taken) is not to look for governance, but leadership.
    Personally, I don't think that leadership will come from within the established framework of government...I can't see how it could function if it were.

    All humans have something to learn from all other humans. All societies have something to learn from all other societies.

    Until the "majority" (or at least a significant group) vote with their consumer purchasing habits, wealth inequality will remain.
    Legislating the thing is governance...and what is needed is leadership which affects the hearts and minds.
    Until "the people" care enough about change to fund the change willingly, it will be a slow and rocky road.
    Wrap that all together...it starts with education of the following generations, and thus establishing the mindset of the society.
    ...My opinion anyway...
     
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  7. Jennifer Kirley

    Jennifer Kirley Moderator Staff Member

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    It shouldn't be political, but it has become so as the lines are drawn between ideologies of personal responsibility (those who want more money should work harder, go to night school, get a new job etc.) and structural (the game is rigged).

    Leadership is fine, but without laws with which we can enforce sound practices (restore and augment the Glass–Steagall Act, regulate derivatives, enhance the consumer protections laws to rein in lending practices, etc.) leadership is just being Cheerleader-in-Chief.

    The purchasing public needs advocates who can help with the protections. The game really is rigged. We also need to redistrict based on the census and remove the gerrymandering process - on both sides - that skews voting results and impairs caring people from enforcing change with their vote.

    People do care. The problem these days is too many are easily distracted by shiny objects and media presence. Too many are being led by fairy tales regarding the power the president has, or does not have. It is a big problem; Americans do need to acknowledge we can't return to the economic growth and the lifestyle we had in the 1950s. We also need to acknowledge that individuals can't fix what has happened. We're a republic and a capitalist society; those aren't mutually exclusive principles.
     
  8. MarkMeer

    MarkMeer Well-Known Member

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    Would you agree that capitalism and centralized-regulation are diametrically opposed?

    Being in this industry (quality & regulatory) has really demonstrated to me the nature of this relationship and how tenuous a balance it is. Increased regulation necessarily interferes with free-market. Also, there are good concepts (e.g. ISO 13485) which tend to get perverted when assimilated by a regulatory framework.

    The bottom-line is this: we should all be careful what we ask for...
    Emphasizing a perceived injustice (e.g. wealth inequality), and then proposing government intervention to solve it certainly makes good politics, as this is a highly palatable over-simplification. Good politics, bad policy, IMHO.
     
  9. Jennifer Kirley

    Jennifer Kirley Moderator Staff Member

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    Dialing back regulations has gotten us where we are today. As one example (there are many) derivatives did far more damage to the economy in 2007-2008 than all those bad mortgages; the mortgages started the dominoes falling. Derivatives acted like multipliers to the losses. Most derivatives were expressly shielded from regulation in the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000.

    Certainly there is a tenuous balance between regulation and capitalism, which is supposed to be "an economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and the creation of goods and services for profit." I suggest that so many people saying "Increased regulation necessarily interferes with free-market" are viewing the thing in stark contrast; like your question if capitalism and centralized regulation are diametrically opposed. Centralized regulation is more opposed to laissez-faire but not necessarily capitalism.

    While Ayn Rand supported laissez-faire capitalism, she also said government's job is to protect men from criminals. Without laws there are no criminals; that is why the melt down's architects are not only free, most profited handsomely from their fraudulent activities.

    I suggest the issue may be less about capitalism itself than what has become of our markets like Wall Street.
     
  10. Eric Twiname

    Eric Twiname Well-Known Member

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    ...yet in all of these things, it is the SOURCE of the "regulation" (IMO) that is at the root of most disagreement on this topic.

    You bring up Ayn Rand's preferred style of capitalism...
    One example from there (re: the Source of the change) is Henry Reardon acknowledging permission for "the people" to regulate or curtail his profits...
    not by government regulation, but by people choosing to not buy his product.

    Derivatives could only multiply losses for those who chose to buy them.
    That they ere offered is a shame, but if the buyers knew the full risk I wonder what would have really happened.
    It is the lack of due diligence, or the express choice not to learn, the basis of the investment, or the sides funded by purchasing the product that I believe is the root of the issue. Regulation can struggle to keep a lid on this, but does not address the root cause. Intentional or unintentional lack of knowledge...thus my previous post re: education.
     
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  11. Jennifer Kirley

    Jennifer Kirley Moderator Staff Member

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    Derivatives, specifically Collateralized Debt Obligations, provide rewards for bad behavior. They shelter consequences of excessive risk taking in futures contracts, interest rate swaps, options contracts, foreign exchange contracts (currencies), etc. "People" don't buy most CDOs (derivatives). They were initially intended to protect farmers, but now the top banks hold well over 90% of them. Derivatives overwhelm the assets by a ratio so large that their value exceeds all the money on the globe. They are essentially Monopoly money that themselves get traded instead of stocks in companies based on value, as Wall Street was intended to do.

    This is not something that education will fix. Indeed, people go to school to learn how to manipulate CDOs in order to create great numbers that prompt those huge bonuses, not for making a great company or providing great service,m but for pushing both real and funny money around. They know the risks but also know that without regulation there will be no consequence for them destroying the small time borrower; they will still get their bonuses. They know that because they did it. And they are still doing it.

    This isn't any longer about people choosing to buy a product or not. That would be the case in a game that wasn't rigged, but this one is. Indeed, with so much money flowing to people who play risks because they know there is no consequence, there is less for those who actually do buy the products (the middle class). That isn't about education either; wages have been trending down for most of us, even the educated. We have few, if any choices; very little power. The game is rigged. It needs its rules reworked.
     
  12. Ronen E

    Ronen E Well-Known Member

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    Is economic equality spelled anywhere in the American constitution?
     
  13. drgnrider

    drgnrider Member

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    You would think "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" would generally include something about morality and not shafting everyone else in the process.
     
  14. Ronen E

    Ronen E Well-Known Member

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    I didn't ask whether it was implied. I asked whether it was mentioned, and it was a genuine question (I'm not from the US).

    Once something is left for interpretation, one must accept that interpretations will vary. If you ask me, "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is anything but implying economical equality, and the only morality it clearly conveys is "Thou shall not kill or enslave another person".
     
  15. MarkMeer

    MarkMeer Well-Known Member

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    I disagree. Generally speaking (depending on your definitions), life, liberty, and happiness are not dependent on economic status over-and-above meeting basic needs.

    The reality is that most of the population has higher life-expectancy and more opportunity than generations past. As far as happiness goes, as far as I know no positive correlation between happiness and vast wealth has been established.

    On a macro level, I don't know how much the general public is actually being "shafted". Sure there are those accumulating ridiculous fortunes, and there are others struggling day-to-day, but the fact is that we live in a time of unprecedented abundance, and I think it's easy to lose sight of this when we focus on how much money the next guy has.
     
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  16. Jennifer Kirley

    Jennifer Kirley Moderator Staff Member

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    Who is this "we" who are living in a time of unprecedented abundance? No one in my family. None of my colleagues. Our salaries have fallen or are flat, college costs a fortune, housing costs are up, medicine costs are outrageous, most can't afford to take time off, let alone a vacation.

    While no one I know is asking for economic equality, we are asking for a better balance. Forget the morality for now; let us instead ask how the consumers can continue to support our economy when only basic needs are met? (and sometimes not even those).

    Economics were not a part of the Constitution. Lots of things weren't: air travel, the Internet, Wall Street, CDOs, toxic lead in public drinking water after tax cuts starved a municipality into an emergency that was addressed by switching the city to corrosive river water. This is actually happening in a number of places, Flint is just the one in the news for now. The public is, indeed being shafted. Right now.
     
  17. MarkMeer

    MarkMeer Well-Known Member

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    Yay! Great discussion! :)

    "We" is the majority of people living in modern Western democracies. I think there is a tendency to focus on dollar figures rather than actual outcomes. For example:
    • College is expensive, sure. ....but more people have post-secondary education than ever before, and college enrollment continues to climb (for better or for worse :rolleyes:)
    • Medicine can be expensive, sure. ...but average life expectancy is higher than it's ever been.
    By "unprecedented abundance", I simply mean there are privileges to the time-and-place in which we live that are easy to take for granted when the focus is on dollars. Because of the times we live in, we tend to take things like cars, air-conditioning, cutting-edge medicine, food abundance, instantaneous communication, etc., etc., for granted and hence when wealthy individuals have these things in greater abundance it's perceived as an injustice. ...but this is to ignore that, not too long ago, the gaps would have been even greater.

    Consider the following:
    • These days, just about anyone can go and get a pineapple from the supermarket in the middle of winter. A couple generations ago, such a luxury was only available to the wealthy.
    • Today, the vast majority of people will have the opportunity to travel great distances in their lifetime...something formerly only in the realm of the wealthy.
    • My cell-phone has nearly the exact same (practical) capabilities as those used by billionaires...whereas not too long ago, I simply would not have had access to the same technologies.
    Sure, the wealthy may still enjoy these privileges in greater abundance or luxury, but the fact is that in terms of real-world benefits, the gap between rich and poor is, IMHO, actually shrinking.

    In my view, this is an issue with delivery being monopolized by government. Government as a service provider is subject to the same difficulties as any other provider. Like any other institution, they are not immune to bad-decisions, mismanagement, inefficiencies, and financial burdens. The problem is that there is no alternative, and little disincentivising consequences when they fail to deal with these difficulties. If Evian water were found to have lead in their bottled water, they couldn't get away with a "lack of funding" excuse. The company would quickly suffer huge fallout in support, and competing companies would be strongly incentivized to demonstrate that they are more capable. These controls simply don't exist when service-provision is exclusively controlled.

    Yes, in this case the public is being "shafted". ...but the root-cause, in my opinion, has nothing to do with wealth inequality.
     
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  18. Ronen E

    Ronen E Well-Known Member

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    The fact that US economy keeps going is an indicator that US consumers (as a group) continue to consume more than the essentials, thus continuing to "support your economy". Had they retreated to bare essentials, the economy would have collapsed already.

    Constitutions are not about details and specifics. They're about setting the principles from which details and specifics can be derived, through the evolving times. If economic equality, or for that matter basic well-being guarantee for all, were among the founding principles, they were more likely to be guarded against the perils of our time. Public policies are always a set of compromises; why should something which is not in the constitution be prioritized over something which is?
     
  19. drgnrider

    drgnrider Member

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    @Ronen E: not a problem, no expectations, this is a civil forum for discussion... and expanding our knowledge-base.

    "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" is not part of our constitution, but is stated in our Declaration of Independence (4-July-1776). I am sure the originators of this document did not anticipate the amount of greed and corruption that many politicians (worldwide) and corporations have fallen into. I am sure they "implied" that ones own pursuit of happiness should not entail the degradation of others' pursuit of happiness.


    You are correct, it should not be based on the economy and possessions, but the 'general consensus' in this country is the more wealth and material possessions you have the happier you are... and most of this is driven by the corporations and businessmen who want as much profit at ANY cost (even if it means the class-divide increases). Look at what is being spent on advertising, lobbyists, etc. it all comes back to making the money by any means.

    To quote Jennifer "with so much money flowing to people who play risks because they know there is no consequence"... Madoff, Ponzi, ENRON, are just a few.
     
  20. Miner

    Miner Moderator Staff Member

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    Some quotes from the founding fathers;
     

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