Saturday, December 22, 2012

Epictetus, Jeffery Sachs, and what you can do to protect Social Security.

One of my favorite philosophers is a guy named Epictetus.  He was born into slavery around 55 CE in the eastern outreaches of the Roman empire and his works played a major role in establishing the Stoic philosophy

One of my favorite quotes from him:

We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them. 

Right now there is a push by conservatives to declare us of a "nation of takers" trying to steal from the "makers" of society.  As a guy who loads trucks for a few hours every day I can tell you for a fact that those $469 million in UPS profits recently reported?--yeah UPS CEO didn't build that on his own.

There is an effort to sell you the idea that there is a "fiscal cliff" and a spending crisis.  These things are just not true.

The systemic economic crisis we face is one where the 1% are reaping all the rewards from the hard labor of the 99%.  Whats worse is they are using those profits to recklessly speculate those earnings as a way to make more and more.  We all know--after this past recession who could deny it?--when the 1% speculate, the economy at some point comes crashing down on the rest of us.

But that abstraction--the systemic problems we face--are removed from you and I in a way.  To many conservatives I think when they hear critiques of the 1% they think we are saying we just want something for free.  That's not true, but I believe in my heart that is what they hear when I am speaking to them.

That's why I really appreciated Chapter Nine of economist Jeffery Sach's book, The Price of Civilization, which is entitled: The Mindful Society.  This is getting economics back to its roots as a social philosophy (its not just a math thing people!) and in a way that the likes of Adam Smith, or even Epictetus, would appreciate.  This is the part of the book where Sachs shifts gears from describing and dissecting how and why America has fallen on hard times and shifts into a prescription for what we can do about it.  "The problems of America begin at home," notes Sachs, "with the choices we are making as individuals."

Sachs like Epictetus long before him wants everyday people to pay attention to the way they approach the world. "Through clearer thinking, we can become more effective both as individuals and as citizens reclaiming power from corporations."

I like this chapter because Sachs is acknowledging both the failure of individuals to take personal responsibility for nurturing civic engagement and civil discourse.  He acknowledges the importance of systemic reforms. The great challenge we face in this day and age is to reclaim power from corporations.  But he does so with a call to action that all of us must heed: we must as individuals become more engaged citizens; we can't just throw up our hands to history and inevitability.

In that spirit I hope you sign and then share with your friends and family this petition to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

To learn more about the proposed cuts to Social Security, my union--who, I'm proud to say, has put up one hell of a fight--has more info here.

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