My Fellow Americans
A fictional conversation between a journalist and hopeful political candidate, several of the most pressing issues in contemporary American and world politics are explored and possible solutions debated. A criticism of the existing corporate, financial, and political superstructure governing our society, My Fellow Americans seeks to inspire readers to question their most basic assumptions about the "choices" they make each day: Why Democrat or Republican? Why dollar bills? Why wages far lower than would be expected given historical analysis?
Written in language intended for the lay audience, My Fellow Americans aims first and foremost at accessibility, because in a world inundated by "news" intended to distract and deceive, the average working person is a hostage of what they know--or at least think they know--for a forty or fifty hour work week combined with all the responsibilities of daily life leaves very little time to dig to the bottom of every rabbit hole.
"Let’s talk specifics about financial reform. What does America need most? Where do we start?”
“Well, what we need first and foremost is transparency—both in our government and financial sector. I say ‘our’ because it was our money that bailed them out, and our money that insures all their nonexistent despots—but I’ll get to that. We should know what these bankers are doing, how they’re doing it, and why they’re doing it—and in language the common people can understand. Because even though there’s been an attempt by some economists lately to write books the common person can understand, in general economics is written and explained in a way so abstruse and with so much technical language that no one without a strong background in economics can really understand them. This is completely unnecessary. I have four children; by the time they were all ten years old I could explain virtually anything to them in a way they could understand. There is almost nothing about the world we live in that cannot be explained using very simple words and in a few short sentences. Take whatever newest phenomenon contemporary physicists are publishing about. Whatever it is can be divorced from the mathematics, translated into basic concepts and expressed in simple terms. The same is of course true of economics, and it’s crucial to the health of our democratic process that the average citizen understands some basic principles of economics, because economics is a participatory activity that permeates every aspect of our daily lives. It impacts our personal finances, our jobs, our security, our retirements, our houses, our cars, et cetera. And unlike physics—or biology, or chemistry—economics is not a science. It’s a participatory activity. What happens in the economy is the result of our aggregated activities. It isn’t the result of a physical law or divine mandate. We choose how wealth is distributed in society, not markets—we are the markets. Even though for a century and a half generations of economists have tried to make us think otherwise—even think so themselves, in many cases—economics is not a science. I cannot emphasize this enough. And the reason it isn’t a science is because there is no objectivity to be ascertained—no empirical absolutes that can be discovered—through experimentation.
Take the study of elemental half-lives, the time it takes for a specific radioactive isotope of a given element of the periodic table to decay to the point that it has lost precisely half it’s mass. Now, whatever the scientist predicts—whether it’s five minutes, a hundredth of a second, or a million years—it has no impact whatsoever on what the resulting half-live of the given element is going to be. It is what it is as a matter of what it is. This isn’t the case with economics. If tomorrow all the best economists say the market is going to collapse, will the market the next day be unaffected by those predictions? Of course not, because economics is a participatory activity, and it’s outcome is determined by the actions of those taking part. That’s all of us. And so it seems to me that it is all-important that we, the ones participating, understand what’s going on.
"As I said, until recently there’s been a seemingly concerted effort on the part of the specialists, the economists, to keep ordinary people in the dark when it comes to the economy or finances. Beyond being able to read the stock prices or check their 401ks most people really don’t know a lot of what’s going on. If you pick up a textbook, or you try and read the journals, or listen to an economist explaining to you something about what’s going on, unless you already know a great deal about economics whatever this economist is telling you is all but unintelligible. The field of economics is completely full of jargon. The language of the field prevents ordinary people from being able to understand and question what’s going on. You take it on faith. It’s a very prestigious position for the professional economists and quite convenient for the bankers and politicians who largely employ them. I think maybe in the beginning it started as something of a statement of prestige. You had the hard sciences—physics, chemistry, biology—developing really technical languages for their fields and the economists decided to use their own special language as well, as a way to seem important, authoritative. Leave it to us professionals, you know. You wouldn’t want anyone but a professional flying your plane. You wouldn’t want anyone but a professional performing your surgery. So you wouldn’t want anyone but a professional managing your economy, right? But as I’ve already said, there’s nothing authoritative about what they do. If all their complicated models and theories were at all practically useful they would have predicted 2008, or 2000, 1991, or 1981, or 1973, and so on. But they didn’t—and there’s no reason to think they’ll be able to do any better in the future since they continue, largely, to rely on the same models and methods. But the broad public don’t know this and so the broad public trusts them—trusts the system, and really aren’t equipped educationally to argue against the largely Neoliberal ideologies that have dominated our economic political discourse for forty years—on account of having jobs, families, lives to live, you know?
Take the most basic of all possible economic concepts. Most of the voters I’ve talked to don’t even know where money comes from, or how it comes into existence. Money is just there. Banks have it. Some of them know the Federal Reserve create it in this country. But that’s about it as far as the knowledge of the average person goes. This is a problem. You need an educated voting population to have an effective democratic process. And when it comes to economics, the single most important determining factor in our lives, we collectively know almost nothing.”
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