Social Contract

How American Society Unravelled After Greedy Elites Robbed the Country Blind by George Packer, The Guardian, posted on Alternet.org, June 20, 2013  – In or around 1978, America’s character changed…the institutions of American democracy, stronger than the excesses of individuals, were usually able to contain and channel them to more useful ends… In Washington, corporations organised themselves into a powerful lobby that spent millions of dollars to defeat the kind of labour and consumer bills they had once accepted as part of the social contract. .…Once the social contract is shredded, once the deal is off, only suckers still play by the rules.

The Meaning of Decent Society by Robert Reich, RobertReich.org December 20, 2013…Our life chances are now determined to an unprecedented degree by the wealth of our parents….But for more than three decades we’ve been going backwards…The major reason is widening inequality…Taxes have been cut on the rich, public schools have deteriorated, higher education has become unaffordable for many, safety nets have been shredded…20 million American children in poverty (we now have the highest rate of child poverty of all developed nations other than Romania)…How can the economy be back on track when 95 percent of the economic gains since the recovery began in 2009 have gone to the richest 1 percent? The underlying issue is a moral one: What do we owe one another as members of the same society? Conservatives answer that question by saying it’s a matter of personal choice – of charitable works, philanthropy, and individual acts of kindness joined in “a thousand points of light.” But that leaves out what we could and should seek to accomplish together as a society. It neglects the organization of our economy, and its social consequences. It minimizes the potential role of democracy in determining the rules of the game, as well as the corruption of democracy by big money. It overlooks our strivings for social justice. In short, it ducks the meaning of a decent society.

The Social Contract by Paul Krug­man, New York Times, Sep­tem­ber 22, 2011 …people…who want to exempt the very rich from bear­ing any of the bur­den of mak­ing our finances sus­tain­able, who are wag­ing class war.  As back­ground, it helps to know what has been hap­pen­ing to incomes over the past three decades…between 1979 and 2005 the inflation-adjusted income of fam­i­lies in the mid­dle of the income dis­tri­b­u­tion rose 21 percent…the income of the very rich, the top 100th of 1 per­cent of the income dis­tri­b­u­tion, rose by 480 percent…policy has con­sis­tently tilted to the advan­tage of the wealthy as opposed to the mid­dle class… Some of the most impor­tant aspects of that tilt involved such things as the sus­tained attack on orga­nized labor and finan­cial dereg­u­la­tion, which cre­ated huge for­tunes even as it paved the way for eco­nomic disaster…Elizabeth War­ren, the finan­cial reformer who is now run­ning for the United States Sen­ate in Mass­a­chu­setts [said]…“There is nobody in this coun­try who got rich on his own. Nobody,” she declared, point­ing out that the rich can only get rich thanks to the “social con­tract” that pro­vides a decent, func­tion­ing soci­ety in which they can pros­per. Which brings us back to those cries of “class warfare.”Republicans…are insist­ing that the wealthy — who pre­sum­ably have as much of a stake as every­one else in the nation’s future — should not be called upon to play any role in ward­ing off that exis­ten­tial threat. Well, that amounts to a demand that a small num­ber of very lucky peo­ple be exempted from the social con­tract that applies to every­one else. And that, in case you’re won­der­ing, is what real class war­fare looks like.

Dark Ages Redux: American Pol­i­tics and the End of the Enlight­en­ment by John Atch­e­son, Com­mon Dreams, June 18, 2012 — We are wit­ness­ing an epochal shift in our socio-political world… Much of what has made the mod­ern world in gen­eral, and the United States in par­tic­u­lar, a free and pros­per­ous soci­ety comes directly from insights that arose dur­ing the Enlight­en­ment. Too bad we’re chuck­ing it all out and return­ing to the Dark Ages…Now, we seek to oper­ate by revealed truths, not real­ity.  Decrees from on high – often issued by an unholy alliance of reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ists, self-interested cor­po­ra­tions, and greedy fat cats – are offered up as real­ity by rightwing politicians…Second, the Enlight­en­ment laid the ground­work for our form of gov­ern­ment. The Social Con­tract is the intel­lec­tual basis of all mod­ern demo­c­ra­tic republics, includ­ing ours.  John Locke and oth­ers argued that gov­ern­ments derived their author­ity from the gov­erned, not from divine right.  Gov­ern­ments could be legit­i­mate, then, only with the con­sent of the gov­erned. Jef­fer­son acknowl­edged Locke’s influ­ence on the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence and his ideas are evi­dent in the Con­sti­tu­tion. Here again, our founders used rea­son, empiri­cism and aca­d­e­mic schol­ar­ship to cob­ble together one of the most endur­ing and influ­en­tial doc­u­ments in human his­tory.  For all its flaws, it has steered us steadily toward a more per­fect union. Until recently… We are, indeed, at an epochal thresh­old.  We can con­tinue to dis­card the Enlight­en­ment val­ues which enabled both an untold increase in mate­r­ial wealth and a sys­tem of gov­ern­ment which turned serfs into cit­i­zens.  A sys­tem which – for all its flaws – often man­aged to pro­tect the rights of the many, against the preda­tory power of the few. Or we can con­tinue our abject sur­ren­der to myths, mag­i­cal think­ing, and self-delusion and the Medieval nation-state those forces are res­ur­rect­ing. Repub­li­cans and Tea Partiers may be lead­ing this retreat from rea­son, but they are unop­posed by Democ­rats or the Press. And in the end, there is a spe­cial place in Hell for those who allow evil to pros­per by doing noth­ing. 

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