Is the system broken? No, not at all! It is fixed just as desired.
Our economic system has no (explicit) concern for ‘we’ in its design, it is all about ‘me’ getting what I can for ‘myself’—it is best labeled an egoistic economic system. The pursuit of material self-interest is the guiding principle for all action.
It promotes (and requires) a belief system about what being human means that is narrow and thus limiting. That is, it rests upon people believing they are at base individualistic, selfish, materialistic and competitive.
As discussed in It’s the EconoMe, Stupid, society to the egoist is “nothing but the sum of the actions of each individual; it is nothing apart from what each individual separately contributes to it” and what one can extract from others.
Making Society In Service
While most acknowledge that democracy is of, for and by the people, it’s objective is also to afford individual freedom in life in the pursuit of liberty and happiness. Since democracy is about having a society of free individuals it is rather easy to mold it into a system in service to egoistic economics. That is, given the focus on individual freedom and without a similar compelling vision of a collective ‘we’—everyone’s responsibility to each other, to community—democracy is easily hijacked by self-interest. Everyone believing in self-interest is not the same as people having a shared common interest.
Happiness when viewed through the lens of egoistic economics becomes the egotistical ‘Me’ having ultimate freedom to maximize ‘My’ profit. The story is that if you do what is expected, if you work hard in striving to maximize your material self-interest then you too will realize happiness. If you don’t realize happiness then it is your fault, after all as the story goes we are all independent individuals each seeking our own gain. You’re on your own and should be lovin it! (That is if you are among the few who can win.) While this is an alluring story, it is also a foolish story to believe.
Think Again, Critically
Just a little inquisitiveness and critical analysis with an open mind would reveal that no one ever got what they have without the cooperation and help of others. Each individual would be lost without the support and help of ‘We’.
Thus we understand that life in society is not simply a collection of independent individuals bumping into each other as each exercises their notion of individual liberty to have it all for ‘Me’. The fact is that we need each other for more than the satisfaction of our material desires. We are not simply instrumental to each other’s needs. While our economic system would have us believe this for the sake of maximizing our self-interested desire to consume we are not mere cogs in this machinery.
It is a fact that each is an individual whole person and just as factual each is part of the whole of human society. That is, while you and I are different individual ‘I’s’ we are not separate ‘Me’s’. This ‘I’ that I am and the ‘I’ that you are are deeply connected. And by acknowledging and acting on this connection we can become a ‘We’. In our society we can sustain the unity implied by us being in this particular society.
Accordingly, we each must recognize our I-We nature and the dual responsibility that this implies. Forsaking either one we forsake our self. We have a very deep interpenetrating responsibility to each other’s unfolding, and therefore each of us is incomplete without each other. As noted by Amitai Etzioni “the I’s need We to be” (The Moral Dimension). To treat anything collective with contempt is to disdain human society itself; the same can be said about the individual. Moreover, with morality and ethics requiring a concern for ‘we’ a society of individuals where ‘me and mine’ is what’s important would find it impossible to avoid becoming an unethical society.
To hear people speak disparagingly about ‘those people who rely on society’s assistance’—you know the poor who have not gotten ahead on their own—you would think that they themselves took no help from society whatsoever. They seem unable to understand that if not for society—especially the government policies written to favor their interests—the current gains they enjoy would not exist. They wouldn’t have so much to love about ‘your on your own economics’ if the politicians they paid for hadn’t helped them to make the vast majority of gains derived from society their gain.
The collusion among moneyed interests and government—private business and political parties—is tantamount to injecting steroids into self-interested behavior. It is nothing short of pure greed. But in the context of egoistic economic society greed is good; the 1987 movie character, Gordon Gekko, and his 21st century real life incarnates on Wall Street tell us it is so. It is because of greed that the drive for getting and having goes forever unsatisfied ensuring a consuming and acquisitive society. This has transformed what could have been a society of equals in regards to political power into a system for maximizing gain for a select group.
With money equating to speech, those with the most money overwhelmingly have the most say; the converse being those with the least money have the least say. When money matters the people with money matter more!
It Can Be Better
In a culture that’s all about me getting it all for me, it is a bit naive to believe that those who rigged the system to serve their material self-interest will actually change things for the benefit of everyone. You see the system is not at all broken, it is working just fine doing what it is rigged to do. It is not that those in authority don’t know what to do to right the ship: It is that they haven’t the will to do what is right for the benefit of all. We mustn’t forget that universal care and compassion is anathema to the greedy.
What we are facing is a self-imposed crisis of will. We participate in the creation of our reality by acting on what we believe about our selves. Having the will to change enables our ability to change. Where there is a will there is (always) a way also implies where there is no will there is no way.
Preserving What Is
In a self-interest based culture most people’s concern is a narrow (self-interest) concern. Appealing to the general narrowness of concern among the citizens political parties readily gain support from various self-interest groups by creating fear among the people that their interest is at risk. Such a strategy tends to be divisive (it creates an ‘us versus them’ mentality) which is exactly what those seeking to control the thinking of their audience requires. If I can get you to think other citizens are detrimental to your interest and that I am on your side then you will support me, which is in my interest—after all my interest is what I really care about. Facts must not get in the way of ‘me’ getting ‘mine’.
Political campaigns have devolved into medicine shows where each seeking election is selling his/her brand of snake oil while at the same time casting opponents and their supporters as the enemy as they play upon the fears of the audience’s narrow self-interest. So election after election, congressional session after congressional session nothing fundamentally really changes. It is the same wine in a different bottle.
So the assumption of egoistic economics (which guides the functioning of American society) that if you attend first and foremost to your self-interest—in the extreme holding supreme your liberty to do as your self-interest desires—then eventually and unintentionally everyone will benefit is at best clearly false and at worst destructive to society. If America is the United States, then what is it that they are united about? What is it that unites them?
The Root of It All
So what’s the problem with American democracy? Egoistic economics is the problem! Self-interest can’t possibly unite! Having only concern for me and mine is not the way to a well functioning sustainable human society—it is more the making of an unruly unethical collection of divisive groups. Each seeking self gain does not lead to a unified effort toward a future better than the present.
Organizations that are sustainable are not designed and managed this way, so why would anyone believe society without a unifying vision that binds people together would have a chance of sustaining itself? A wise businessperson would not even try to design and manage an organization wherein everyone is out for him or herself and where no one has concern for and commitment to the collective known as the organization.
It should be quite clear that a functioning viable society must advocate equally for individual and community—for the ‘I’s’ and ‘We’—since they are complimentary (and necessary) components of a wholesome society.