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Overcoming Institutionalized Ethics

By Ron Rivers,

At the heart of the Progressive project is a change in direction from what is to what will be. Institutional arrangements have shaped the ethics and consciousness of a people throughout history – they define the very nature of our interactions with one another and the world around us. Present reality demands a more precise examination of the ethics that are imprinted upon us by our systemic structure. The Progressive project seeks to build institutions designed for the maximization of access and agency within society. To successfully manifest this vision we must first recognize the psychological barriers imprinted on us presently through our current institutional arrangements. In doing so, we present ourselves the opportunity to imagine the collective ethical consciousness under a different structuring of society.

 

The possible and the right

The premise of the argument presented here is relatively straightforward – the way our economic, political, social, and educational arrangements fundamentally define how our society operates and the reality in which as individuals exist. These institutions provide the framework for our interactions with one another, and they unconsciously dictate the patterns of our thoughts and in doing so construct limits on our imagination. These limitations are not limited to how we work, play, teach, and love, but permeate through to the moral definitions of what we believe is and is not right.

For example, let’s consider an ethical dilemma that lies on the horizon. Recently NPR published an article[2] about significant advancements that have been taking place in Genetic Engineering. Using the CRISPR[3] technology the scientists have created a Mosquito that when introduced to another colony will spread a mutation that will eventually leave the females sterile, causing species to collapse.

“After mosquitoes carrying the mutation were released into cages filled with unmodified mosquitoes in a high-security basement laboratory in London, virtually all of the insects were wiped out, according to a report[4] in Nature Biotechnology.”

This is a major scientific milestone. However, scientists have been clear that more research is needed before live deployment.

The case for deployment could be made merely in discussing the revenging effects that malaria has in some areas of the world. In 2016 there were 216 million cases of malaria worldwide with 445,000 of these cases resulting in death. [5] Developing nations in Africa experience the worst impact of this disease. Eradication would have the potential to save a tremendous amount of lives which some scientists agree is the best path of action [6]. This disease is a significant problem for many people living outside of the United States. Their lives matter and as we continue the deepening of our global social order we have a human responsibility to offer assistance whenever possible.

At the same time, there are others within the Scientific Community who warn of the potentially dire consequences for releasing these creatures into the wild. Mosquitoes feed on plant nectar, making them pollinators as well as play a vital role in the food chain by providing a source of food for many fish and frogs when in the larvae stage and birds and bats after they mature [7].

Eliminating a species from the natural web can have profound consequences and from the research conducted it does not seem like we have a full understanding of the potential negative impacts of such an act. Historically, we can observe that a lack of knowledge of what is possible in these scenarios has not stopped humans from experimenting before. In the late 1950s to early 1960s China experimented with species eradication. Dubbed the Four Pests Campaign, leader Mao Zedong implemented a plan to eliminate rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows. The results of this attempted speciescide were a significant decrease in the rice harvest and a rapid increase of the locust population which intensified the ecological problems. It is believed that this purge increased the impact of the Great Chinese Famine which resulted in 20-45 million people dying of starvation [8].

If we consider the additional element of the ever-increasing threat of crises generated from climate change[9] the situation becomes further complicated. We understand the vast array of negative consequences of our past and present actions within our environment better than ever now but still lack an appropriate global solution. What drives us to believe that a species-level elimination is a viable option without understanding the totality of the consequences? Alternatively, is it the love of one another and the divinity of human life that drives the argument for eradication forward? How does the current structuring of our social, economic, and political institutions impact our options for dealing with this issue in the future?

 

Dominion Ethics

Do we to choose to destroy these mosquitoes? Is it ethical to exterminate an entire species for our convenience?

Religion plays a significant role in defining the ethics of a society, and if we take the above example of climate change and examine the effects of the rise of dominion theory, this provides interesting insight on how religions may influence the reaction of society to this issue.

King James Bible, Genesis 1:28 “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

Generations of the western religious dominance have created a generational ambivalence to the planet supported by this dominion theory. Aside from climate change, we can observe the dominion theory in our treatment of animals in the present. We are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction [10] that receives little press and is all but ignored by political leadership. Much of the food we eat is meat-based products which are quickly accelerating to the most polluting industry in the world. [11] That says nothing about how we turn a blind eye to the treatment of these animals while they exist. At the core of this philosophy is a perverted Darwinism about how humanity is classified as the fittest and therefore endowed with the prerogative to do what we will. We abandoned personal responsibility for our actions and ethical decisions under the illusion of a divine mandate from an ancient text that relegates supporting a strictly hierarchical organization of society. I say we, but in truth, no person of the present is to blame aside from those who deny collective progress for personal gain. As mentioned earlier the majority of humans today did not choose these institutional norms – they are artifacts of the past that continue to dominate the thought and action of the present.

 

Present ethics

Dominion ethics are further supported by a dogmatic approach to our current economic and political arrangements. Our world is competitive, and for many, it is filled with fear and anxiety about the future. Increasing prices limiting access to high-quality education, information, and resources create system barriers for many, squandering our collective potential. It’s difficult to think about the ideal version of yourself and society when a few sick days off from work might mean missing a critical bill payment. For those fortunate enough to be beyond the scope of the struggle for necessities lays the next great crises, climate change and the many challenges that will follow. As our politicians continue to quibble about the realities of this conundrum and who is responsible, the scientific community pleas for collective action yet the resolutions fail to present themselves in a meaningful way.

Getting back to the scenario at hand, to kill mosquitoes or to not kill the mosquitoes, if we were to derive our solution from the framework provided by Dominion ethics, we would choose to destroy the mosquitoes because this theory dictates that humans are superior therefore it is ethically the right thing to do. However, if Dominion ethics were not prevalent and there was a different philosophy, it is reasonable to assume that a different remedy would be sought out.

 

 

Transform society, transform ethics

For the sake of philosophical exercise, let’s imagine a world where labor was related to personal interests and exploration. All people had access to the education, information, transportation, and resources necessary to experiment within all walks of life. Could we imagine our capacity to construct a new set of economic, political, and social institutions free from the constraints of our current struggles? What type of value system would that society manifest?

Economic cooperation would usurp competition as the dominant model of progress. A vital suite of protections in the form of a socialized bottom would encourage an entirely new swath of people to experiment and innovate in potentially limitless directions. In this imagined institutional framework, the freedom of choice in our labor combined with deepened access to one another would direct us towards models of work structured as small businesses or cooperative firms for larger projects. Automation technology would be a public boon, removing the need for humans to do the job of a machine – freeing us to explore our creative and experimental potential. If all of our labor were based on a more cooperative form of competition, we would lessen the barrier between us and the others. Education would offer a focus on multiple perspectives with the intention of working cooperatively to determine an ideal solution to the problems presented. No person is an island – history teaches us, the most significant contributions to human life have been projects of cooperation. In deepening our connection to one another, we replace fear and threat of subjugation with a sense of unified purpose.

Structurally we could bring about this ethical shift by federally funded education programs, freeing them from the burden of reliance on municipal taxes. Students and teachers would have access to the best materials and curriculum empowering an effort to redefine how we provide access to information within our society. With cooperation being the dominant ideal, the structure of education would transform into Roberto Unger’s vision of a more dialectic framework. We would choose an approach focused on selective depth of specific subjects over wide memorization of facts. Topics would be taught from two contrasting perspectives, fostering dialogue and discussion from the students. Transforming our way of learning is core to the Progressive project, it instills in us the fundamental problem-solving abilities necessary for the people we are destined to become. Personal observations through volunteer work at my local high school conducting civics seminars gives me the impression that this vision of a generational cooperative attitude is closer than we think due to the students’ ability to connect instantly.

Politically we could reorganize our process in such a way as to raise the temperature of democracy within the United States, creating an ethos of personal responsibility to be an active part in the betterment of our communities. We must decouple politics from Dominion ethics. This project requires a fundamental overhaul of our system of elections. We would de-commercialize our election process, removing it from the hands of those who would seek to profit from it. Choosing instead to provide a method of deepened access to candidates and information in an easy and convenient format accessible to all – think digital. Data would drive the issues and debates would be Oxford style [12] focusing on substance. This deepening of democracy would expand the influence of our collective transformative powers. The reimagining of our political structure would heighten every American’s sense of agency in both their destiny and our common direction forward. This shared bigness would become a cultural value, supported by institutional reformations to ensure the access of all to the necessary tools needed to transform the world.

 

Ethical alternatives

So what happens to the mosquitoes in our scenario of alternative institutions? No prediction I make here could successfully capture the type of humans we would be under a reformed set of institutions. We could imagine that scenarios involving voluntary relocation, material assistance, or other yet unknown alternatives would be viable options. In the end, we may still choose to exterminate the mosquitoes. I imagine that under a different set of ethics defining circumstances that the ecosystem and the creatures that share would be approached from a position of avoiding death if at all possible.

In transforming society do we open up new regimes of thoughts and dominant ethics among our collective? I would argue most definitely yes. We all exist within this shared reality, defined at all levels by our choices to create new alternatives or accept existing structures. When an existing institutional structure limits our ability to transform our economic, political, and social regimes we are consequently denied the ability to change our moral circumstance. An argument for the Progressive project is an argument to expand the human capacity, small but cumulative innovations in many different directions, consistently bringing humanity one step closer to realizing our fullest collective potential.

The restructuring and redefining of our ethical structures should at the core of the Progressive project. It is within our collective power to change our circumstance and in doing so, forever change ourselves and our destiny. A focused approach to piecemeal institutional innovations across all sectors with the intention of institutional reformation is a necessary path for our ascension to more profound freedom.

 

 


[1] Kurzweil’s The Law of Accelerating Returns Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accelerating_change

[2] Mosquitoes Genetically Modified To Crash Species That Spreads Malaria by Rob Stein NPR https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/09/24/650501045/mosquitoes-genetically-modified-to-crash-species-that-spreads-malaria

[3] Questions and Answers about CRISPR Broad Institute https://www.broadinstitute.org/what-broad/areas-focus/project-spotlight/questions-and-answers-about-crispr

[4] A CRISPR–Cas9 gene drive targeting doublesex causes complete population suppression in caged Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes by Kyros Kyrou, Andrew M Hammond, Roberto Galizi, Nace Kranjc, Austin Burt, Andrea K Beaghton, Tony Nolan & Andrea Crisanti https://www.nature.com/articles/nbt.4245

[5] Malaria World Health Organization http://www.who.int/malaria/en/

[6] Would it be wrong to eradicate mosquitoes? By Claire Bates BBC https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35408835

[7] What Good Are Mosquitoes? By Debbie Hadley ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-good-are-mosquitoes-1968303

[8] Paved With Good Intentions: Mao Tse-Tung’s “Four Pests” Disaster by Rebecca Kreston Discover Magazine http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/bodyhorrors/2014/02/26/mao-four-pests-china-disease/#.WP7DeJMrJE4

[9] Planet has only until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change, experts warn by Brandon Miller CNN https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/07/world/climate-change-new-ipcc-report-wxc/index.html

[10] Earth’s sixth mass extinction event under way, scientists warn The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/10/earths-sixth-mass-extinction-event-already-underway-scientists-warn

[11] Meat and dairy companies to surpass oil industry as world’s biggest polluters, report finds by Josh Gabbatiss Independent https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/meat-dairy-industry-greenhouse-gas-emissions-fossil-fuels-oil-pollution-iatp-grain-a8451871.html

[12] Oxford-Style Debate, Explained by Intelligence Squared Debates https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVmShH0-9xY


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Beyond Universal Healthcare

By Ron Rivers,

What is the future of Healthcare in the US?

Universal Health Care is the next incremental step.  The research is demonstrating that a socialized system of healthcare is the best choice both morally and economically[1].    The challenge of defeating the entrenched corporate classes is for another discussion.  Today we explore what type of healthcare we would design into the modern Progressive project.  My argument will be structured around two core premise. High-quality Healthcare is a universal right that all humans should have access to and that the advancement of our medical technology, talent, and institutions is a very positive thing for humanity as a whole.

How expansive can we imagine?  The core questions at the heart of the Progressive project for the future are always about the amount of access and agency we are creating for every individual.  Exploring alternative visions requires deep imagination and the ability to think beyond the current regimes of thought within the United States. Solutions developed that exist within our present style of market economy and accepted ideas about the relation of property and contract will at best succeed at humanizing the existing arrangements, and at worst fail under the pressure of profit-seeking.  Our best strategy moving forward is, to begin with, imagination, creating a clear vision that we can use to work backward to manifest the change we seek to create. As we discuss systemic alternatives, it is critical to understand that our legal institutions shaped everything that is and therefore can be reshaped into what will be.

 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

Begin with questions

The dominant mode of thought among Progressive thinkers within the U.S. is a system of universalized care and access.  H.R. 676 is the most comprehensive bill in front of Congress at the moment and is being significantly bolstered by the grassroots efforts of organizations like Health over Profit.   There is a growing mandate for the program[2], the data is clear that is economically the best choice[3], and there are numerous intangible benefits that would positively impact Americans such as reduction in anxiety and fear about the future.  These efforts and interests are vital to the Progressive project of today, but what lies beyond the present policy initiatives?

 

In a scenario where health is valued at a very high level of importance, we begin by building a framework for our imagining of an alternative future. For this exploratory exercise, we will start from a point in time when H.R. 676 passes in its current form –  granting all citizens access to quality, free healthcare regardless of socio-economic status. Still, we are left with numerous questions in regards to the broader vision of systemic improvements. How can we accelerate the ability of medical professionals and organizations to experiment and innovate in their respective fields?   What is the best way to open up access to the medical professions? Who are the future medical professionals and how do we best prepare them to succeed? How serious are we about advancing medical technologies? These questions go beyond access into a deepened agency for all participants to improve and refine the system so that healthcare becomes an industry of perpetual innovation.

 

Core conflicts

When discussing institutional reformation, we must focus on the core of our problem when it comes to healthcare.  The passage of H.R. 676 would provide a basis for all people to have access to health care but it would not remove money from the process entirely.   A socialized model of access to health care will exist in perpetual conflict with a for-profit model of facilitation, experimentation, and innovation.   Therefore we must explore both the present and the potential of our medical institutions.

The present

At a recent Medicare for All information event, I heard an argument for a hybrid model of hospital care.  The gentleman argued for a socialized bottom but including levels where those with the ability to pay for a higher level or quality of service could do so. This argument assumes that there is a real level of quality difference in the services and facilities offered, but data demonstrates that there is not.

A Harvard study of Medicare data on 4.8 million patients and 4,571 hospitals, 237 of which converted to a for-profit model showed no discernable difference of the quality or frequency of care offered to individuals[4].  A separate study found that for-profit health care institutions did change what type of services they provided, choosing to focus on the most profitable services such as surgery while neglecting to advance less profitable avenues such as home health care.[5]  There is a direct correlation between whether the hospital is operating under a for-profit or non-profit model and the number of people requiring return visits which generate additional profits for the hospital but are not necessarily beneficial for the patient.[6] Debunking the argument that a for-profit model is necessary for efficiency, a 2006 study by the Congressional Budget Office demonstrated that operating expenses in for-profit hospitals were only %0.5 lower than non-profit hospitals.[7]  The data supporting the fact that for-profit hospitals add no benefit to patients is overwhelming and could be an entire article on its own.

 

The possible

Understanding that for-profit facilities add no benefits we should seek to remove the profit incentive immediately.  By legislating that all medical service institutions exist as non-profit entities, we open our institutions up to deeper levels of cooperation and access among the institutions funded initially by tax investment and perpetually by innovation.

Within our medical institutions, we could imagine a networked supply chain accessible to all organizations.  Facilitated through a digital platform medical institutions of all sizes could coordinate ordering of materials on a national scale.  Coordinating with a separate Progressive project of disseminating the most advanced modes of production our medical institutions could use Amazon.com-level logistics A.I. to determine the best routes for delivery, ordering schedules, and more.  Although there would be costs in dedicating tax investment to develop this type of deepened connectivity, we would see a return on that investment in multiples based on cost reductions for our facilities due to collective bargaining. The result being cost reductions in the tax spend on medical care as a whole.

The networking of our medical institutions need not be limited to cost reduction.   We could leverage our networked institutions to create a system where medical professionals could access all the position openings across all of the networked facilities.  This same technology could be used to alert medical experts of when and where their talents were needed and even informs if emergencies were to arise. By deepening the connection between professionals, we give more agency to the participants to learn, explore, and offer their help.  This would strengthen the ability of all medical practitioners to have access to the latest research, studies, and experiments. Deepened resource access for doctors means better care for patients – reaffirming our efforts for improving healthcare. Networking medical facilities and the practitioners to increase efficiencies and improve the quality of healthcare provided are just some examples of how a transformative vision for the medical industry and how we fund it could change our reality.

 

Innovation and Experimentation

For-profit companies now handle much of the innovation in medical devices, technologies, and medicine development. According to data from the National Science Foundation, private companies outspend the government in research funding on a 3:1 ratio.[8]  The Progressive project faces a unique challenge. We have learned through capitalism that challenge and conflict can give rise to innovation. But how do we diminish the conflict of profit-seeking advancement and an open system of health care that seeks to accelerate collectively and cooperatively?  The answer is by not limiting ourselves to the current institutional arrangements.

No scenario we can imagine exists in a vacuum.  If we can imagine a scenario where a suite of social protections that alleviate an individual’s concern about their access to health care, shelter, food, education, information, communication, and transportation – all of which are core elements of the Progressive project – we can begin to construct a scenario of alternative visions of the future of innovation in medicine.  If we structured the healthcare market as an independent market with its own set of institutional arrangements that were applicable specifically within health organizations we could create a structure that would address the need for continuous innovation while removing the core focus of profit as a motivator. Such an institutional arrangement has the potential to exist in different variations of itself if and evolve when it becomes more optimal for society to do so.

Imagine an industry built from cooperative firms.  Each one existing as an employee-owned organization and each organization having access to the others for collaborative purchasing to drive down costs.  All firms within the industry would cooperate on the acquisition of resources and sharing of data but compete to create unique solutions to the challenges they were attempting to solve.    Since everyone has access to the vital resources within a base of social protections, we can support a more intense competition fueled by a more focused and bountiful research and development budget provided via tax dollars and organizational structures that rank growth and research over the individual profits of a handful of owners.  By deepening the connection between medical innovations firms and implementing a focused agenda of tax-funded research and development we give society a more profound stake in the direction of medical progress. In doing so, we can choose to regulate the profit structures of the products developed and sold within this market. Our goal is to enable those contributing to benefit from their efforts as well as giving the firm the opportunity to fund new experimentation and innovation while supporting a long-term vision of continued innovation in cooperation with society.

 

Changing the Structure

Under our current market structure, medical innovation companies compete as any other for-profit organization would – keeping research secret until patented and successful.  This thought regime severally limits our collective potential for medical advancement. When it comes to life-saving treatments, technologies, and drugs they should be available to humanity at a price that helps support the people creating these solutions while at the same time driving more profits into further expansion and less into the hands of a few majority shareholders.  Operating healthcare under our current market economy lessens our ability to create change and limits the imagination and intentions of those participating within the system. Instead, we should cast aside the dogmatic adherence to a single form of market and reimagine the requirements of the medical market.

Medical innovation organizations would be obligated to share their latest research and discoveries with competitors who in turn would be able to use the information to create new solutions.   By providing all actors with access to the most recent data and innovations, we begin to accelerate medical research to heights not possible in our current market structure.    When an organization successfully solves the problem we could elect to provide a bonus payment, some social capital reward, or other incentives to the winners. The successful firm would then lay out a plan for continued experimentation and their next objectives.  We could experiment with the patent laws surrounding medical technologies as well – creating new legislative paradigms specific to medicine. Perhaps ensuring that only the organizations discovering the product can sell it while at the same time increasing the ability for competitors to improve the outcomes, even if only incrementally.

If society were funding multiple competitive organizations working on similar products eventually, we would see a scenario where an innovator arises, and others falter.  In this scenario we let them fail. With the expansion of a vital suite of protections, deepened cooperation among firms, and a mandate for more federal facilitation of medical advancements, opportunity would be such that a person desiring to transfer between organizations to continue work on projects that excite them would be more accessible than ever.  For example, if you were an engineer working for a company that was unable to succeed you would have the option to transfer to the organization that was successful and focused on continued innovation in the desired vertical. As the work is partially government sponsored and funded by growth more qualified researchers and professionals could be assimilated into the organizations without issue.

In this medical innovation scenario firms would more rapidly accelerate towards monopolies in their specific niche.  These monopolies are unlikely to enter a state of permanence as we observe with the present market order because of the open access of information and technology to even the most fledgling firms.   Some cooperative firms may accelerate to the point where their monopoly becomes one of talent – in this scenario we could create a separate market order. For organizations that develop products and services that become inseparable from society (think Google, Amazon, or Merck for a medical example) we could imagine new ways to integrate them into society.  As a firm monopolizes its industry it acquires the additional social responsibility to share their depth of knowledge and talent with the world. Working in cooperation with academic experts and the state we develop systems of training open to all individuals interested in furthering the exploration of the specific field in question. Any person looking to change the focus of their transformational efforts in the world could enter the academy of one of the monopolizing firms and learn from the best minds and methods available to date.  That individual could then choose to contribute to the organizations efforts or take the knowledge gained and apply it to an alternative vision of the future of the verticals of interest. The best firms become the best schools, creating a cycle of perpetual experimentation and innovation of our medical prowess. This type of expansive and self-perpetuating growth would fuel new opportunities within healthcare industry at all levels.

 

Helping our Healers

If our objective is to create a medical institution focused on cooperation, collaboration, and consistent innovation it is essential to have the right people on the bus.  Past and present, medical field professionals are subjugated by our existing market order because of debt. The average medical student owes $207,000 at the time of graduation.[9]  Assuming a 30-year loan at 6% interest that financial burden becomes increased to a lifetime total of $446,785.05. If progress in the fields of medicine and health is what we desire, then the current order is unacceptable.  Medical education should be structured in a manner to attract people with a genuine passion for healing, regardless of socioeconomic status. As a society, it is within our grasp to provide a pathway for those interested in pursuing medical education and profession to receive the highest quality training for free.  Initial training could be structured through academia while ongoing and specialized training becomes a perpetual norm of the medical profession via a model institutionalized firms as described above. It is unreasonable to believe that we can shift the medical paradigm away from a profit-driven model when new doctors enter the field with almost half a million dollars in real debt.

The Progressive project extends beyond institutional reformation, drawing inspiration from our very core of what is and is not right.  Medicine and health must be reimagined outside of the regime of profit. Until we expand the collective imagination about the value and necessity of high-quality medical education for all who seek it, we will be bound to the imagined regimes of men long dead.

 

Exporting health to the world

Upon realizing our vision of a reimagined market regime for the healthcare industry, we should do our best to export it to the world.  If we want to revitalize the reputation and contributions of the United States to the world, then we should do so by proactively giving.  I say “give” deliberately. The future is cooperative, not competitive. We give away medical technology, education, and access without expecting anything in return.  In doing so, we usher in new ways of thinking more effectively than any marketing campaign could ever hope to do. As with all aspects of the Progressive project, our vision extends beyond the immediate, into the deeply connected future.  A unified Earth is the best method for achieving stability, prosperity, and freedom for every individual. This vision is not within our immediate grasp, but if it is ever to begin, it will begin with a single nation taking the first proactive approach. The United States could be the medical innovation center of the world and in manifesting this vision join us deeper with our fellow humans across the globe.

 

Transcending limitations

The entire argument presented here is an expansion of one of the fundamental arguments of the Progressive project as suggested by Roberto Unger – there is no single or necessary form of market.  What we have envisioned in this exploration is a new market specific to healthcare facilities and tool innovation, but the formula of a socialized bottom, cooperative-competitive middle, and institutionalized top could be applied to any other sector of our economy.  Changes would be necessary to create the most optimal solution, but change is the natural order and all institutions going forward should be designed to accommodate transformation. This argument is just a single imagination that could be expanded in numerous other directions. Most importantly – our efforts transcend us.  Our creativity is infinite, and we must spread that infinity with the world, sharing our efforts and innovations with those around us. Beyond Universal Healthcare lays the path towards a globally cooperative medical system designed and transformed for the collective global good.


[1] The Costs of a National Single-Payer Healthcare System by Charles Blahous https://www.mercatus.org/publications/federal-fiscal-policy/costs-national-single-payer-healthcare-system  (Funded by the Koch Brothers)

[2]  Public Support for Single Payer Health Care Grows Driven by Democrats Pew Research http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/06/23/public-support-for-single-payer-health-coverage-grows-driven-by-democrats/

[3] Medicare-for-all is cheaper by Ryan Cooper The Week https://theweek.com/articles/789640/medicareforall-cheaper

[4] Hospitals converting to for-profit status show better financial health, no loss in quality of care by Harvard School of Public Health https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/hospitals-converting-to-for-profit-status-show-better-financial-health-no-loss-in-quality-of-care/

[5] Do different types of hospitals act differently? by Jill Horotwitz University of Michigan Law School https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1146866-horwitz-study-on-for-profit-and-nonprofit.html

[6] For-profit hospitals correlated with higher readmission rates University of Illinois at Chicago https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180918180456.htm

[7] Nonprofit Hospitals and the Provision of Community Benefits Congressional Budget Office  http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/ftpdocs/76xx/doc7695/12-06-nonprofit.pd

[8] Data check: U.S. government share of basic research funding falls below 50% by Jeffrey Mervis Science Magazine https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/03/data-check-us-government-share-basic-research-funding-falls-below-50

[9] Average Medical School Debt by Jeff Gitlen Lend EDU https://lendedu.com/blog/average-medical-school-debt/


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Book Review: Young People and the Future of News by Lynn Schofield Clark & Regina Marchi

By Ron Rivers,

The OurSociety Experiment and our vision of the Progressive project to transform society draw inspiration from hundreds of other individuals who have contributed to society through their writings, research, innovation, and openness.  These book reviews are our effort to spread the collective vision of transformation by deepening understanding of the past, present, and future. We frame these book reviews on how they relate to the Progressive project as described in the OurSociety blog section.  If you’re interested in understanding these texts in more depth, please purchase the books for your research.


Citation:  Lynn Schofield Clark and Regina Marchi, ‘Young People and the Future of News,’ Cambridge University Press (2017) 305

 

Connective Journalism is the overarching theme of the book and can be summarized as the method by which news is transmitted and evolving to become a more inclusive form of communication.  Youth Users especially identify with the story that they share as an extension of their persona. While identifying with the information received isn’t a new phenomenon, we can observe that the sharing aspect plays a more profound role in today’s youth.  Finding a way to connect engagement to the news and information experience is the new reality of successful communication. A critical task of the Progressive project is to communicate our vision for alternative futures in a method that resonates with youth, including them in the process of both news generation and dissemination.

“People want to share not just stories, but their feelings about those stories, and it through this sharing that “affective publics” are formed, Zizi Papacharissi argues.  This is how young people “feel their way into politics.”  [1] (Emphasis added)

 

Beyond Information

Citing several sources, the authors share that beyond information, numerous scholars have commented on the erosion of community and the need for a reconceptualization of the notion of community and its relationship to concepts of the democratic public.  A core component of Progressive transformation is to deepen our access to one another, therefore once a shared vision of the future is agreed upon the Progressive project should seek to establish local community chapters. Similar to how we will see county Democratic and Republican organizations.

Progressive groups would differ from the traditional local political organizations in that they would not solely function as an extension of an entrenched candidate machine, but also as a vehicle for sharing ideas and information related to the movement.  We could imagine meetings consisting of a 10 to 30-minute presentation of information followed by a discussion lasting no more than an hour. The Progressive project is unique in that the central theme of the movement is about creating a series of systemic alternatives that are designed to evolve and change.  Compare that to the traditional political ideologies which seek to expand a specific regime of thought tied to existing institutional arrangements.

 

Agency in the Process

Young people often feel that they are seen as trivial players in the decisions and movements toward globalization, even as they are experiencing the shifts of national and global forces in their lives in significant ways.  They respond to the social conditions of their lives through new forms of political expression, yet their efforts are often dismissed, feared, or ignored altogether. They move across a variety of public and communal spaces, and yet they are infrequently asked to comment on their own experiences with globalization or on their role in constructing knowledge about it.  The Progressive project must create a narrative and process to provide a foundation for the youth to become involved in the shaping of society in permanence.

 

Regulation and Information

The authors argue that at one-time people held out hope that the Internet might create a more equitable system for news creation and dissemination.  Today’s patterns of concentrated ownership are unlikely to be disrupted unless we see significant changes in media regulations. In thinking of systemic alternatives, the Progressive project must not be limited to the laws of the present.  Media and communication are a critical component of the human experience. Something so profoundly entrenched in our personal and professional lives cannot be entrusted to the whims of organizations operating on a purely profit motive.

We require alternatives in theorizing on how to regulate these massive information companies properly.  Do we socialize them? Do we place strict restrictions on how they provide information? Using Alphabet’s Google product as an example, we could imagine legislation requiring a proper ordering of data.  For example, the initial five links for a search result would be required to present specific categories of information first, despite their popularity. An example would be Wikipedia, a Scientific Journal on the subject, a credible source reporting and summarizing the news, and finally, two blog articles of dissenting opinion arguing the topic.  This is just one possible alternative out of many that could be conceived by those with deep technical understanding and a passion for open and transparent information.

 

Rethinking Journalism

Authors conclude that rethinking the concept of journalism that currently views people as revenue sources rather than citizens is required for the media of the future.  We completely agree with their conclusion. Access to information is the new lifeblood of the human existence; it allows for better decision making, more opportunity, and deeper connection with the world around us and the “others.”

To facilitate this re-imagination, the authors provide some practical steps for practicing collective:

  • Focus on engaging youth as citizens, not profit generators.
  • Cultivate connections with local community youth as sources for news.
  • Partner with local community and school news efforts.
  • Train young people as makers of news and new stories about their communities and.
  • Train local youth in investigative research and partner in story production for different audiences with the aim of solutions-oriented journalism.

[1] Zizi Papacharissi, Affective Publics:  Sentiment, Technology, and Politics (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2015).

 

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Agency and Access Through Increased Minimum Wage

By Ron Rivers,

New Jersey activists have been working tirelessly towards raising the minimum wage.  Groups such as Businesses for a Fair Minimum Wage, the Poor People’s Campaign, and Fight for $15 rally and organize to secure a more significant economic floor for lower wage workers.  For those of us working towards a more transformational vision of society, a higher minimum wage is a necessary first step towards recognizing a future built upon the maximization of agency and access of every individual.

 

Sifting through the noise

There are some dogmatic believers in our current form of market economy here in the United States.  Believers of Austrian Economic Theory [1] would argue that raising the minimum wage is fundamentally against the best interest of a market-driven economy.  Austrian Economics explains that the market should be utterly free of regulation and influence of the government (sound familiar?), and therefore any minimum wage regulation would be an incorrect decision as market economies should be the sole determiner of the wages paid for labor.  We can observe the data that demonstrates this theory leads to lower wages for workers who are producing more.

Source:  Economic Policy Institute

Austrian Economic theory provides no solution for crises and eliminates the human element, imagining markets as some natural law instead of a malleable human construct.  The approach also subscribes to allowing the market to fix any/all problems that were generated by the market. We could imagine the scenario if all of the major financial institutions were allowed to collapse back in 2008 and what the impact would have been on our established systems of exchange as well as the quality of life on the average American who would suffer the most.     Finally, market fundamentalists lack the data to support their vision which is why we don’t see any society implementing a purely market-driven model within their institutions.

The argument against a more vital suite of protections for the individual, including a system of more equitable labor, is an argument for personal interests at the expense of others.   Specifically, arguing against a minimum wage increase from the lens of a market purist is an ideological argument that is not rooted in evidence.

 

Details in the data

As with any argument for social transformation our biggest asset is the data supporting our efforts for change.  The typical case against a minimum wage increase is that it harms small businesses and will reduce overall economic activity (people will get fired and therefore spend less).  This was the big question in my mind when I first started exploring the topic, but I was happy to find that with a small amount of time spent researching my initial assumptions were incorrect.

There have been a significant amount of studies conducted utilizing the historical data available that have determined, quite clearly, that an increased minimum wage creates an overall net benefit for total economic activity.   Paul Sonn and Yannet Lathrop provided a data brief for the National Employment Law Project stating, “…These basic economic indicators show no correlation between federal minimum-wage increases and lower employment levels, even in the industries that are most impacted by higher minimum wages. To the contrary, in the substantial majority of instances (68 percent) overall employment increased after a federal minimum-wage increase”[2] Below is a visual demonstration of what happened in each instance of a minimum wage increase.

Source:  NELP.org

 

This information should be at the core of every argument for a minimum wage increase, the data is clear – it generates significant net benefits.  Of course, in a competitive capitalist system, there will be losers. Some businesses will fail, and that is OK. The goal of creating Progressive alternatives is not to create equality of outcomes, that is a fallacy that can never be realized under a set of social institutions that encourage innovation and experimentation.

Another argument I’ve observed against an increase in minimum wage is that such an increase would create inflation, effectively nullifying the increase. This is a flawed argument as it assumes that all producers within the specific vertical being reviewed are employing wage labor below the $15/hour threshold. Brandon McKoy of the NJ Policy Perspective produced a detailed study outlining just how far off the mark this assumption is.[4]

Speaking with the perspective of an entrepreneur, founding a business is a challenging endeavor that requires constant change and adaptation. All plans for phasing in a new minimum wage are gradual and would give existing businesses plenty of time to adjust accordingly. Future companies would have to consider the new wages in their initial planning but could gain solace in the increase of disposable income among a section of the population that would be freed for consumption.

 

What’s the story?

As argued in previous articles about the Progressive Brand and Core Objectives of Progressive Transformation, Progressive thinkers, activists, and political leaders need to coalesce around a uniting vision forward.   That vision should focus on increasing access and agency for every individual to transform the world, and in doing so, transform themselves.

Increasing the minimum wage is an important incremental step in building a more equitable and innovative society.  Individuals who benefit from the receiving of these monies will have more access to tools necessary for increasing their agency to change themselves and the world around them. Raising the level of economic and personal security is a cornerstone of modern Progressive projects as it enhances every individual’s ability to experiment and innovate in all walks of life.  When we raise the collective floor, all of us gain the ability to reach higher and in different directions than previously imagined.

For the Progressive project, minimum wage increases should be viewed as stepping stones towards building a society based on free labor.  Free labor was the ideal of many pivotal figures throughout history such as Abraham Lincoln [4] and Karl Marx [5].  All but abandoned by modern Democrats, Republicans, and even many Progressives, an economic model supporting free labor is the ultimate ideal for maximizing agency and access within a society.  Free labor is a system where the individual has access to the necessary education, information, and resources to experiment and innovate in whatever field that would like to pursue.  Free labor as described cannot exist without numerous other systemic reformation initiatives, however once realized the collective human population would experience innovation and prosperity at levels that at present would seem fantastical.  The Progressive project should focus on providing people agency in the process of transforming their lives and the world around them.  Free labor is the transformative vision that for the Progressive project and raising the minimum wage is the next logical step.

 


[1] Austrian Economics, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austrian_School

[2] Raise Wages, Kill Jobs? by  Paul K. Sonn and Yannet M. Lathrop  https://www.nelp.org/wp-content/uploads/NELP-Data-Brief-Raise-Wages-Kill-Jobs-No-Correlation.pdf

[3] Wage Stagnation in Nine Charts by Lawrence Mishel, Elise Gould, and Josh Bivens.  Economic Policy Institute https://www.epi.org/publication/charting-wage-stagnation/

[4]Raising the Minimum Wage to $15 is Critical to Growing New Jersey’s Economy by Brandon McKoy NJ Policy Perspective https://www.njpp.org/reports/increasing-the-minimum-wage-to-15-would-boost-the-economy-and-help-over-1-million-workers-but-not-if-the-legislature-stalls

[5] Lincoln, Abraham. “Annual Address Before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 30, 1859.” The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 5. Eds. John G. Nicolay and John Hay. New York: Francis D. Tandy Company, 1894. http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/teachers/lesson9lincoln

[6] Lincoln & Marx by Robert Blackburn https://www.jacobinmag.com/2012/08/lincoln-and-marx


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Solving the Democratic Dictator Dilemma

By Ron Rivers,

Over the last two years of working on the OurSociety Experiment, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of people who were involved with governance, activism, and candidacies in the state of New Jersey. It has been an enlightening experience in many ways, and I have observed some common perceptions that make for great discussion. Specifically, what drove people to select a president with authoritative beliefs and ideals? More importantly, how do we take the necessary measures to prevent such an event from occurring in the future? I’ll argue that both questions have the same answer, access, and agency.

 

Democratic Dictators

History has shown us that democratic forms of government can lead to undesirable consequences. On August 19th, 1934, Adolf Hitler was democratically elected as President of Germany. In 2014, Erdoğan was elected President of Turkey, and Bashar Assad was “elected” President of Syria. 2016 brought the rise of Rodrigo Duterte who ran on a platform of reducing crime by slaughtering drug dealers and criminals. As of January 2017, the murders have risen to over 7,000 people, with reports ceasing afterward. [1] Donald Trump was then elected on a platform that was transparent about limiting the rights of racial and religious minorities within the United States. All of these individuals were chosen by their people to lead, despite forewarnings that their actions would not support the common man. Democracy is a messy thing and people, especially people who are living in a state of uncertainty and fear about the future, can make decisions that – in retrospect – seem baffling. Why would one person see the immense flaws (both moral and programmatic) of these leaders while others do not?

 

Fear and Voting in Texas (and other red states)

Many studies exist highlighting the specifics of why people chose to vote for Donald Trump. [1][2][3] They cover a range of topics, such as the metrics of health, economic anxiety, cultural anxiety (racism), and fear of change. If we peel back the layers, every study concludes the same thing in one way or another: many Trump voters lack access to the tools necessary to give them the agency needed to transform themselves and the world around them. This deficit leads to fear. Fear of their economic future, fear of loss of social status, and fear of the unknown. But, for our argument, we will focus on access to education, information, and opportunity.

 

Access to Education

Access to quality education provides a basis for understanding and reasoning within society. Out of the ten states with the lowest education ranking, nine are voted for Donald Trump. [5] [6] Education funding in the United States is tied directly to municipality taxes; it should be no surprise that a small, but densely populated state like New Jersey has excellent public schools while states with more rural and sparsely populated areas, like Mississippi, have less access to resources for their educational needs. Another correlation supporting the argument is that six out of the ten states with the lowest education rating also are the poorest states when measured for median household income. [7]

Education isn’t just about money invested; it’s also about education style. Schools on the coasts have already begun to transform into a more dialectic style of teaching. Students work together cooperatively to solve problems, focusing on discussion, idea sharing, and drawing collective conclusions.

Roberto Unger lectures about teaching every subject twice, from different perspectives. He argues that we should abandon encyclopedic memorization for selective depth. Compare this to the more competitive hierarchical methods of teaching such as rigid relationships between the teacher and students and a competitive atmosphere that begins to classify children under a specific regime of talents, as early as third grade.

A practice originated during a time when education’s primary purpose was to generate workers for a manufacturing economy. The critical difference here is that the dialectic style of learning prepares students with the necessary cooperative skills to function in a highly technology-driven workforce, leveraging interpersonal and analytical thinking skills. Adversely, the hierarchical, competitive method of teaching is best suited for a manual, labor-intensive economy, like the U.S. of the 1950s.

When you take a moment to reflect on the situation, the absurdity begins to shine. Citizens of the United States will get a better/worse education based solely on the birth lottery of where they were born. It is absolute insanity for a nation that prides itself on innovation and experimentation to deny access to the best possible education because of capital.

If we want to prevent future democratic dictator’s from arising, we must radically transform education within the U.S. The framework for this transformation is to decouple education from municipality taxes and, instead, define education as a federally funded program. The government would work in deep cooperation with the states and municipalities to develop curriculums suited for the necessary skills of tomorrow, not yesterday. Denying anyone within the U.S. access to high quality, fact-based, dialectic education will only haunt us further in the future. Opening up access creates a new generation of people with the tools and agency needed to create change.

 

Access to Information

Americans love rugged individualism. Our national canon is that every person can become a hero, regardless of their humble beginnings, through hard work and focus. Personal grit certainly plays a role in living a successful life. However that may be defined. But, it is only part of the picture.

The other part is that we are all inextricably connected in a shared reality that has been built by the collective efforts of the billions who have come before us. Everything you understand about the world around you is there because of communication between people. Communication is foundational to the human story, but communication cannot possibly reach its fullest potential when a subsection of the population is fed a steady stream of misleading and false information.

Access to factual information in an easily digestible format is an absolute necessity if we hope to avoid democratic dictators in the future. A highly educated public with access to genuine information would significantly reduce the chances of electing another demagogue. To an extent, we all share something in common across the world: we are all the sum of our experiences. Why does it surprise you that when someone has access to highly conservative propaganda, both on a national news level as well as a local news level (e.g., Sinclair Broadcasting), that their perspective of the world is warped. Instead of understanding that our economic modes of production are shifting and working with their elected representatives for a more socialized training system, they point the finger and blame the other. It’s not just local media. It’s the filter bubbles that are created via social media feeds that have demonstrably divided us. [8]

Progressive projects should work towards opening access to quality and factual information to all individuals. We may accomplish this via regulation for monopolistic search and social media companies requiring that the information they provide, at least for the first three search rankings, be the most factual and accurate information available. We could imagine a scientific study, a Wikipedia entry, and a summary available shown on the first three options (ahead of the advertisements). Access to accurate information, combined with education, would raise the ability of every person to understand and change the world around them.

Aside from the quality, we need also to address the quantity of information available. Here in New Jersey, our main internet provider advertises download speeds of up to 400 Mbps (Megabits per second – 1,000,000 bits per second). As of 2016, there are 12 states where over 10% of the population does not have access to internet speeds over 25 Mbps! Seven of those twelve have over 15% of their citizens without access, at all. [9] By allowing information to become a commercialized product we have created a fundamental divide in our population’s ability to expand their access to information, thereby limiting their agency to transform their perspectives by consumption of information.

Progressive policies addressing information quality may consider punitive measures for those who would sow misinformation and discord for their gain. The Alex Jones’ fiasco is a perfect example. Private companies removed Jones from their services, costing him significant capital gains. The argument against this is a First Amendment-driven slippery slope precedent which I believe has some merit; do we allow massively integrated social companies to choose what we can/can not say or do?

It is apparent that massive corporations have too much power and control over our data, but that is a separate conversation. Does allowing Jones to spread blatantly false information for personal profits make us any freer? I would argue that no, it does not. If anything it makes us less free because it preys on a section of the population that typically does not have access to the education and information necessary to determine that Jones is a fraud. If we cannot provide some clarity of genuine information to our collective populace, we are doomed to repeat the democratic dictator dilemma.

Addressing quantity challenges in information could be solved by making the internet a publically owned, funded, and developed resource, focusing on expanding access to the technology as well as the quality of the technology itself for all citizens. Our need for data and access is only growing, and access to quality internet and information should be considered a fundamental human right as it is necessary to create the future we desire.

 

Access to Opportunity

There are many ways we could define opportunity, as the definition changes depending on the level of access an individual has to education and information. We’ll focus on the opportunity to transform the world.

If technology trends continue on the path of exponential growth we are experiencing today, the need to learn new skills and innovate within existing institutions will become even more vitally important to the future of labor. There are multiple ways to pursue a more opportunistic world, but a vital element of that is a suite of protections for the average individual.

Drawing from personal experience as a small business owner, the process to develop and build a business is both time intensive and resource exhaustive. Even when you achieve your goals, the monetary rewards are such that in many cases the owners are in many instances beholden to their organizations, granting little to no more freedom than they would have in a corporation. Yet, many leap. Entrepreneurship brings a wealth of innovation, experimentation, and opportunity creation that unleash the human potential of the individuals involved.

If our objective is to increase access to opportunity, we should be encouraging more people to create entrepreneurial ventures. In present society, the cost of failure is extremely high. If I had failed with Love2brew, the likely scenario is that I would have been about 30 years old, with no money, no savings, no assets, and a mountain of student debt. This would be my punishment for attempting to create and innovate within our world.

A socialized bottom or suite of protective measures, for all, would be the ideal scenario to expand innovation and experimentation. If every person had access to the basics such as food, housing, healthcare, education, information, and transportation, we would see an explosion in creativity and transformation within the world. Competition and even failure are good things when it comes to creativity and innovation. Not every venture will succeed, but no person will starve just because they risked being bold.

Cooperative organizations are the alternative to self-employment. Think of collaborative owned corporations with expanded resources and support from the government in the forms of access to the most advanced forms of production (technologies) as well as access to lines of credit to expand and experiment when the decisions are backed by sound data. For the existing and future mega-corporations, social ownership becomes a dominant player in their structures and activity.

One specific program to address access to opportunity would be that the best firms become the best schools. We could imagine becoming a logistics innovator both here on Earth and in space. A socially owned Amazon could open training programs where individuals who want to learn new skills or pursue new occupations could be trained by Amazon using the most advanced practices. This type of access society provides any individual the opportunity to pursue the productive life they desire deepening their motivation to excel and innovate.

Anxiety and fear are the two drivers that have led us into the political situations of the present. When our institutional arrangements create a very high cost of living, a high cost of education, a laissez-faire attitude towards information quality, and a political class owned by the corporations who sponsor them, the unsurprising result is that the population fears what is beyond. This unrest is used to misdirect frustrations to the “other.” In today’s scenario in America, we could identify the currently targeted “other” as immigrants, both legal and undocumented, and Muslims. Despite data indicating that immigration is a positive economic factor[10], a populace who widely lack access to education, information, and the opportunity to transform themselves will fall prey to these manipulative and dishonest tactics.

 

Change and Crises

Present and past societies share a common thread: they have historically relied on crises to create significant change. If the Progressive leaders of today desire to create real, sustainable change, we must focus our energy on building a society that changes and evolves proactively. From my perspective, this is the best way to deal with the uncertainty that our technological ascendency will bring. A society that has access to the necessary resources will be a society of individuals who have the agency to transform the world.

 

 

 

[1] Rodrigo Duterte, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodrigo_Duterte

[2] Economic Anxiety Didn’t Make People Vote Trump, Racism Did by Sean McElwee & Jason McDaniel The Nation https://www.thenation.com/article/economic-anxiety-didnt-make-people-vote-trump-racism-did/

[3] The alarming link between the increase in “despair deaths” and counties that voted for Donald Trump by Nicole Karlis Salon https://www.salon.com/2018/09/06/the-alarming-link-between-the-increase-in-despair-deaths-and-counties-that-voted-for-donald-trump/

[4] It Was Cultural Anxiety That Drove White, Working-Class Voters to Trump by Emma Green The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/05/white-working-class-trump-cultural-anxiety/525771/

[5] Education Ranking by State: https://247wallst.com/special-report/2015/09/23/the-most-and-least-educated-states/

[6] 2016 Election Results The New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/president

[7] US State by Income Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_income

[8] A Nation Divided by Social Media by Krystal D’Costa Scientific American https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/anthropology-in-practice/a-nation-divided-by-social-media/

[9] Broadband Speeds in the U.S FCC https://broadbandmap.fcc.gov/#/area-comparison?selectedTech=acfosw&selectedSpeed=25_3&searchtype=state

[10] Value Added: Immigrants Create Jobs and Businesses, Boost Wages of Native-Born Workers American Immigration Council https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/value-added-immigrants-create-jobs-and-businesses-boost-wages-native-born-workers


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