Social Contract

Reweaving the Fabric of our Societyby Joan Blades, Living Room Conversations, posted on HuffingtonPost.com, 05/22/2012 …Most of us agree that D.C. dynamics have got to change for the U.S. to solve the real challenges we confront and to retain our leadership role in the world. Political leaders and the media are failing us on so many levels…all Americans have a great deal in common. But our understanding of politics, economics, science and even basic facts is increasingly disparate. We cannot afford to continue on this path. A healthy democracy requires an educated electorate that shares basic truths and values — or at least is willing to sit down and listen to one another with an open mind, with mutual respect and civility…While the traditional media loves fights, the new and emerging social media loves connections. We can leverage the wisdom and creativity of crowds to find win-win solutions to our common problems. We can scale our efforts to tens of thousands of conversations, giving individuals the power to begin to reweave the social fabric of our communities…

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, 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. For today, however, let’s focus just on taxes. The budget office’s numbers show that the federal tax burden has fallen for all income classes, which itself runs counter to the rhetoric you hear from the usual suspects. But that burden has fallen much more, as a percentage of income, for the wealthy. Partly this reflects big cuts in top income tax rates, but, beyond that, there has been a major shift of taxation away from wealth and toward work: tax rates on corporate profits, capital gains and dividends have all fallen, while the payroll tax — the main tax paid by most workers — has gone up…According to new estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, one-fourth of those with incomes of more than $1 million a year pay income and payroll tax of 12.6 percent of their income or less, putting their tax burden below that of many in the middle class…Elizabeth Warren, the financial reformer who is now running for the United States Senate in Massachusetts…“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.  We are de-evolving, hurtling head­long into a past that was defined by serfs and lords; by necro­mancy and super­sti­tion; by poli­cies based on fiat, not facts.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.

Democracy in America Is a Series of Narrow Escapes, and We May Be Running Out of Luck by Bill Moyers, May 17, 2008 , CommonDreams.orgThe reigning presumption about the American experience…is grounded in the idea of progress, the conviction that the present is “better” than the past and the future will bring even more improvement. For all of its shortcomings, we keep telling ourselves, “The system works.” Now all bets are off. We have fallen under the spell of money, faction, and fear, and the great American experience in creating a different future together has been subjugated to individual cunning in the pursuit of wealth and power –and to the claims of empire, with its ravenous demands and stuporous distractions. …there is a class war and ordinary people are losing it…The conclusion that we are in trouble is unavoidable…statistics that show real wages lagging behind prices, the compensation of corporate barons soaring to heights unequaled anywhere among industrialized democracies...extremes of wealth and poverty cannot be reconciled with a genuinely democratic politics. When the state becomes the guardian of power and privilege to the neglect of justice for the people as a whole, it mocks the very concept of government as proclaimed in the preamble to our Constitution…Our democracy has prospered most when it was firmly anchored in the idea that “We the People” — not just a favored few — would identify and remedy common distempers and dilemmas and win the gamble our forebears undertook when they espoused the radical idea that people could govern themselves wisely.

Restore the Basic Bargain By Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Blog, November 29, 2011

 

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