Why are we always solving the same issue yet calling it something else? Answer: A systemic problem manifests as different symptoms, yet we focus only on the symptoms and never the system of causes. We do this because in general: we react to the symptom-of-the-moment; we are lead by fear not understanding; and we don’t suspend, detach from and challenge our thoughts in order to understand the patterns of symptoms. In short, we don’t think critically, systemically and statistically.
On the point regarding suspending thought, many assume perception provides unadulterated reality—fact, truth. But to the contrary, what we hold—knowingly or unknowingly—in our mind’s eye acts as a filter to what we perceive and how we interpret things. What we perceive filtered by thought! Yes thought is quite influential. In short the thoughts we hold prefigure the reality we will likely experience—belief makes things real. Accordingly most just swallow whole the story they are told by others because it speaks to the thoughts they hold—forgetting that belief is not truth.
Playing to Belief
Most often leaders, especially political leaders, frame and contextualize circumstances to appeal to other’s beliefs in a way that aligns with their self-interests when defining and communicating a problem as well when offering its’ solution. Consider as an example Paul Krugman’s New York Times column where he spoke to the misuse of metaphor, which is often the means by which issues are framed by our leaders. As illustration consider the framing of the current economic difficulties in terms of it being a stalled car. The implication is that there is nothing fundamentally wrong it just needs a little jump-start. Clearly what this metaphor does is pave the way for the symptomatic short-term solution—and everyone knows that giving it a little push will get it going—to which the masses will simply give a nod in agreement.
As Krugman correctly asserted “the root of our current troubles lies in the debt American families ran up during the Bush-era housing bubble. Twenty years ago, the average American household’s debt was 83 percent of its income; by a decade ago, that had crept up to 92 percent; but by late 2007, debts were 130 percent of income.” Though this dissolves the metaphor and gets us past the jump-start reaction it we need to examine the system it self—the dynamics that underlie the effects—and not just its’ effects.
Critically Think This Through
What is required is more critical thinking guided by profound knowledge. For example we need to ask, what is it about the economic system that is causing American families to run up debt?
A basic premise underlying our economic system is the notion that individuals seek to improve their lot by maximizing their material self-interest. At the societal level improving our lot means acquiring greater wealth, which is caused by increasing production. However, to sustain increases in production the consumption of goods and services must correspondingly increase. Thus, the economic growth cycle of American capitalism can be described as mass consumption leading to or requiring mass production, which in theory, feeds the masses and makes for greater societal wealth.
Unfortunately consumption based upon inherent human need—which has a natural satiation level—cannot possibly sustain a system bent on sustaining an upward spiraling and ever increasing consumption-production cycle. That is, people must become consumers with insatiable desires. In other words, consumption must shift from inherent human-need consumption to ego-want-consumption.
Further increasing the pool of people will contribute materially to sustaining the production-consumption cycle as well. Accordingly one could argue that globalization helps satisfy this need for increased growth.
However, globalization also increases demand for cheaper production. Inevitably, in an effort to maximize shareholder value—as the cost of production increases—corporations are challenged to reduce costs to remain competitive. Consequently producers re-locate production to lower wage locations (usually to less developed regions of the world). As a result, while the cost of production is diminished so too is the income of the majority of households in society. Household income cannot sustain their developed ego-want consumption.
Credit to the Rescue
Clearly this would lead to less domestic consumption if it was not for credit. In other words, encouraging consumers to purchase on credit sustains the consumption-production cycle. But as jobs are lost, the ability of consumers to consume and to sustain credit-based purchasing is greatly diminished. Ultimately the decline in demand makes production at any cost unnecessary.
In the end, maximizing shareholder value through maximum production unintentionally and inevitably puts downward pressure demand, and in turn the need for production. Clearly our economic system is not simply stalled it is fundamentally misguided and seemingly bent on committing suicide. So what do you think giving it a jump-start will do for us in the long-term?
Don’t Just Do
Until we challenge our own thinking as well as that of those in authority—yes those who are contextualizing our situation—we will never adequately identify the underlying system of causes and we will unlikely define and solve the real problem. Next year and for years thereafter we will wrestle with the very same difficulties—attending to symptoms while enabling the underlying causes to persist.
Let’s critically think our way out of this, rather than swallowing whole the stories told by those interested in keeping the system as it is. Let’s not continue fiddling while everything is going up in smoke.