Dear President-elect Obama,
In your speech today you said that in times of crisis like these, ““We have acted boldly, bravely, and above all, together.” You went on, “That is the chance our new beginning now offers us, and that is the challenge we must rise to in the days to come.”
The phrase “above all together” expresses the reason why I voted for you.
Your frequent use of ubuntu rhetoric keeps alive my hope that you are open to the required new paradigm.
New paradigm. What makes it new is that (in contrast to economics) it works with human nature as it has been discovered by biology and by anthropology. Economics is the old paradigm. In the new paradigm economics is not forgotten; it is included as Newton ’s physics is included in Einstein’s.
What makes it a paradigm is that it governs the nominal level of measurement, defining the objects to which mathematical calculations are applied.
Required. What makes it required is that turning back the calendar to the progressive policies of FDR, Harry Truman, and Jimmy Carter; or ditching today’s neoliberal economics and returning to the centrist economics associated with such names as Paul Samuelson, Joseph Stiglitz, and John Maynard Keynes; will not work.
There was a reason why free market fundamentalism triumphed in 1980 and stayed in vogue until November 4, 2008. In the late 1970s Jimmy Carter’s policies were not working, nor were similar policies in other places. Centrist economics was not working.
Instead of solving the unsolved problems that tanked progressive politics in 1980, the world returned to old-fashioned free market fundamentalism. Everybody with any sense knew that inevitably free market fundamentalism would fail. It failed in 1873. It failed in 1929. It would fail again.
Today’s question is not, how to get past the crisis and bring capitalism back to normal? Today’s real question is, how to make feasible the good intentions of the Jimmy Carters of the world? In other words, the question is how to overcome the structural obstacles that made West European social democracy and its analogues elsewhere stop in its tracks, reverse engines, and decline?
We do not answer today’s real question by demonstrating the errors of free market fundamentalism. We do not answer it by advocating the standard progressive politics and centrist economics of the past. We do answer it in practice by transforming the structures that create the obstacles that brought social democracy to grief.
In other words, we answer it by transforming civil society.
(Readers who find the preceding paragraphs mysterious may wish to look up on the Internet ubuntu, nominal level of measurement, Thomas Kuhn, Dilemmas of Social Democracies. Amartya Sen’s “socioeconomics”)
I spent today trying to cooperate with what I take to be your best thinking. I made an exception to my vegetarian principles by donating chickens to a chicken-dinner fundraiser for a local corps of hospital volunteers known as “the ladies in white.” I believe that today’s immediate priorities include keeping the hospitals running; they also include making sure everyone has at least one square meal a day, a place to live, and something to do.