Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Plan

There seems to be little doubt that, throughout the world, and particularly in the US, there has been a monumental transference of wealth from the Middle Class to the very highest levels of the Upper Class. Substantiation of this trend is readily available from a wide variety of sources – it is reflected in tax rates, real estate and equities ownership, valuation of net worth, salaries and bonuses. It is happening – it is real. But is this the result of some sort of diabolical plan, a grand conspiracy?

A few years ago I heard a story on National Public Radio’s “ThisAmerican Life” (Act 2, ‘The Plan’) which told of gentrification of neighborhoods in Washington DC. Here predominantly Black neighborhoods were slowly being replaced by upwardly mobile middle class Whites. In one specific instance, an academically well performing school was condemned in order to make room for new housing – housing which was marketed to mostly higher income (White) people.
The synopsis of The Plan: “American cities have gone through a massive wave of gentrification in the last few decades. To some people, it's not a natural ebb and flow of the real estate market, but a plot, by rich, mainly white people, to take over the neighborhoods of poor, mainly black people.”
But it turns out there was/is no “Plan”, at least, not one that can be attributed to a designed conspiracy, that is. These sorts of changes are, of course, happening in neighborhoods all over the country. My own kids recently bought and renovated an old home in an inner city Portland, Oregon neighborhood. Now known as the Alberta Arts District, the neighborhood is frequently the subject of articles in Sunset Magazine featuring its eclectic boutiques and restaurants. To people of our kid’s generation, integration of neighborhoods such as this is a positive for society. But are these changes the results of specific planning or the result of other perhaps not so obvious forces?

In Europe “Austerity” looms threateningly over the customary way of life. In Greece, people experiencing shortages of food.for the first time in their lives. Here in this country the social safety net is being targeted as the source of both our moral and economic decay. Erstwhile CEOs pull in salaries and bonuses that would make the Vanderbilt’s, Carnegies and Rockefellers of their day looking like chumps.

We read that the Koch brothers have convened secret meetings including influential business and political leaders; even Supreme Court Justices. But do these individuals truly have the power to coordinate a conspiracy on such a monumental scale?

Many now grudgingly accept (I among them) that the boom times after WWII in this country was more of an economic aberration than an linearly upward trend into future decades. Is the flow of culture, for that matter, designed or driven through it’s own momentum? Consider the attitude changes over the past decade regarding Gay Marriage, for example. Was this progress cooked up in some elaborate plan or the result of some sort of cultural evolution?

I recall observing large flocks of hundreds of individual birds flying in undulating, random patterns; the whole of which appearing to have some direction. Scientists studying this behavior were curious if, among the individual birds, there might be a “leader” directing the movement of the flock.
Such movements are a prime example of emergent behavior: the behavior is not a property of any individual bird, but rather emerges as a property of the group itself. There is no leader, no overall control; instead the flock's movements are determined by the moment-by-moment decisions of individual birds, following simple rules in response to interactions with their neighbors in the flock. [1]
Rising consumer prices, falling standard of living, the rich becoming richer, may more be a product of individuals or groups taking advantage of opportunities and situations, than any sort of detailed conspiracy – Cultural Evolution through Emergent Behavior? Perhaps.

1. How does a flock of birds wheel and swoop in unison?, March 2004,


DJan said...

It's an interesting idea. I remember reading long ago about how the biosphere (the physical world) is morphing into the noosphere (consciousness). The whole premise of evolutionary change makes me hopeful.

Robert the Skeptic said...

DJan I am glad you feel hopeful - from my perspective things could go either way. Evolution, like any process, is punctuated; moving in fits and leaps and sometimes fall-backs. The one thing we can depend on is "change".

Beach Bum said...

...the rich becoming richer, may more be a product of individuals or groups taking advantage of opportunities and situations, than any sort of detailed conspiracy...

While I would not for a second pretend to understand Chaos theory what little I can wrap my head around says that patterns and trends can emerge out of disorder.

Long story short, I do not believe in any grand conspiracy by the rich and powerful to take over the country but like you wrote a series of circumstances presented themselves in the early 1980's and the rich are taking every advantage they can.

Now what I do believe is that we are very near a tipping point where the Elites have grabbed so much power a great many of them now believe they should in fact be running the country as a new form of aristocracy.

Robert the Skeptic said...

BeachBum Unfortunately, I agree... a Meritocracy appears to be growing in this country and placing our democratic form of government less and less within reach of the populace.

billy pilgrim said...

given the parabolic increase in our population there's a real suppy/demand imbalance in the labor force. as long as the supply of labor far outstrips the demand the price of labor will stay down.

are the rich super intelligent for being able to convince dirt poor southerners that the wealthy shouldn't pay more taxes or are the poor just so feckin stupid there's no hope for them?

Robert the Skeptic said...

Billy You have put your finger on two parallel issues. The first is Productivity - essentially the ability to produce more with less people. Businesses are not in the business of creating jobs; they are there to create profit. Employees DECREASE profits, so the trend will ALWAYS to be to produce more with less labor. To that end, the future HAS to be one in which there are people who will work less or not at all. In other words, there will NOT be enough jobs to employ everyone to an increasing extent.

Yes, the wealthy are smart enough to know the simple psychological marketing ploys to cause the (stupid) majority to act against their own self interests. The tossing out of this Gay Marriage thing is a prime example - it creates a hot-button rallying point to garner votes... votes for people who will create policies that continue to undercut the middle and lower class living standard.

Paul said...

Aren't Conspiracy theories fun? Where is your proof Robert ?

Robert the Skeptic said...

Paul Proof of what, Paul?

Do you actually READ my posts or do you just skim them and comment based on what you 'think' I said off the top of your head? Maybe it's a reading comprehension skill issue -- I am saying there is NO grand conspiracy.

You might want to delete your comment, re-read the article, then try again.