Monday, February 9, 2015

Capitalism, Equal Opportunity...and Trauma

Monday, February 9, 2015

I read an interesting piece in the New York Times yesterday regarding the state of the American economy.  Plenty of real and virtual ink has been spilled in the last several years as the American economy has struggled to emerge from what is often called 'The Great Recession'.  Some would say we actually endured an economic depression.  I wouldn't necessarily disagree with such an assessment.

Discontent with the American economy has always existed.  But the amount of discontent appears to be growing.  The above referenced article cites a Gallup poll from January, 2015 in which 67 percent of Americans are noted to be "dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are distributed in the United States."  I do not know what the demographic of those polled was but I have to say I am impressed by the proportion who cited dissatisfaction.  Basically two of every three Americans are unhappy with the income and wealth distribution in this country!  That is a significant majority.

The New York Times piece introduced a term I had never previously heard.  That term is "inclusive capitalism".  Upon reading the article my first visceral feeling was one of dubiousness.  Is inclusive capitalism an oxymoron?  It seems it very well could be.

An article in The Guardian defines inclusive capitalism as "the idea that those with the power and the means have a responsibility to help make society stronger and more inclusive for those who don't".  This type of capitalism might operate through the implementation of principles including improved access to education, prioritizing "livability" in the design of towns and cities and a greater emphasis on thoughtful long term investment (as opposed to an obsessive fixation on maximizing short term returns for the pleasure of shareholders).  I personally believe the implementation of such principles could make for a kinder, gentler form of capitalism.  But would it make capitalism inclusive?  That depends on how you define inclusivity.

In my own thinking inclusivity and justice are inextricably intertwined.  A just society values inclusivity and an unjust one will sneer at it.  To be a society defined by this idea of inclusive capitalism we would need to do a better job of offering equal opportunity to all.  When your socioeconomic status automatically excludes you from access to certain opportunities enjoyed by others you have a recipe for eventual economic and social dysfunction.

I don't really foresee the United States becoming a more just society until we begin to more seriously address a number of issues.  And one of those issues is how wealth can and is used to distort access to economic and social opportunities.  I personally feel alienated due in part to the fact that so many Americans are falling behind while a very small few possess a greater and greater percentage of the total wealth of this nation.  But even this reality would not necessarily concern me if it weren't for the fact that this uneven distribution of wealth is being subsequently used to distort access to the political and other processes by which we can steer the course of our own individual destinies.  All you need to do to appreciate how dysfunctional the United States has become is to research the topic of campaign finance reform.  As long as money is equated with speech we will continue to have serious problems that defy poorly conceived policy responses.

So what does inclusive capitalism have to do with trauma?  I will speak from my own experience.  I am still cleaning up the mess done to my own psyche and sense of self due to the dysfunctional behavior of my family of origin as well as certain institutions that failed to fulfill their declared missions in my early life.  These early life experiences I could not really escape were unjust and caused me demonstrable harm.  I became cynical, angry, mistrusting and fearful.  I am finally learning how to let go of the anger and resentment I once held.  Sadness is now the affect I am most aware of carrying.

Trauma can and does decisively impact how we think of ourselves and what we think is possible in our own lives.  When a life history marked by past trauma is further burdened with society scale factors (in other words issues beyond the control of any one person) such as unemployment, corruption and deeply systemic apathy you have a perfect recipe for people to get lost and simply give up on themselves and the world around them.

I know I have wanted to give up on my own life more times than I can count.  I all too often feel weary of the challenge of trusting both individual people as well as entire institutions.  For example, I fail to be easily moved to trust our current Congress when I hear so many stories about legislative inertia in the face of truly pressing issues.  As I wrote in a separate blog piece found here Congress has lately been as popular as pornography and the BP oil spill!

If people such as myself are going to continue to walk the paths of our own individual healing we need resources and support to make these journeys.  We need friends, families, communities, states and a nation that care enough about us and our challenges such that they will make us a priority.

I am grateful to have a good network of social support here where I now live.  Minnesota is a state filled with many progressive and caring people.  I feel immensely grateful to benefit from the health insurance I currently enjoy.

As cliched as it might sound we are all truly in this together.

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I invite you to accompany me as I document my own journey of healing. My blog is designed to offer inspiration and solace to others. If you find it of value I welcome you to share it with others. Aloha!