Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How Do We Manufacture Public Purpose? Not Just Consent?

   (Commentary posted by Roger Erickson)

We'd have to start all the way back in Kindergarten - and then maintain it? Because that goal pervades literally every endeavor we make, at all stages of life?

It takes an electorate?  To keep manufacturing aggregate intent?

Meanwhile, this following approach step seems like one small, necessary but not sufficient step in the right direction, as long as the literal phrase isn't over sold. :)
Post Consumers
Finding the satisfaction of [personally] enough? 

How did we end up with so many voters who find the term "tolerance limits" so foreign?


Dan Lynch said...

I don't know the answers but thanks for asking the question.

MMT is always talking about "public purpose," but they don't explain WHO DECIDES what the public purpose is. It's a huge issue.

At best, our political organizations reflect our society, but if our society is segregated and polarized, then there will not be any agreed upon "public purpose." And that's a problem.

Tom Hickey said...

Public purpose is set forth in law, which begins with the preamble to the US Constitution in the US. "We the people in order to ... do ordain....

The ultimate responsibility in a liberal democracy rests with the people, and with it their destiny, which is legally in their control.

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

However, as John Dewey and others have argued, the continuance of liberal democracy after it has been established is contingent on education for democracy. Citizens not properly educated for democracy will not be able to maintain it in the face of familiar historical forces opposed to it or that are bent on shaping its institutions to their own narrow advantage.

Democracy can be captured by factions and special interests, as George Washington warned at the close of his presidency, presaging Ike's warning about the military-industrial complex.

I would say that MMT is a key aspect of that education for liberal democracy, e.g., in showing that affordability is not an issue in meeting public purpose.

Tom Hickey said...

I should add here that the ancient Athenians that established democracy in the West held that democracy depends on an engaged citizenry that is free in the sense of has leisure to become informed about affairs and to participate actively in debate and decision making.

In ancient Greece, this freedom was provided by the productivity of the dominant form of capital, slaves. Now humans have the capacity to provide the necessary leisure through technology, but we aren't using it for the purpose of promoting actual democracy, in part because so many in advanced economies capable of greater leisure are debt slaves and only the rentiers are actually free, as has been the case historically under different forms of governance.

Unless we overhaul the present culture and do what it takes, we are going to continue to have plutocratic oligarchy with only a veneer of liberal democracy. Tweaking things here and there is not going to be sufficient, even though it may improve things for a time.

I continue to maintain that this will take a shift in the level of collective consciousness toward greater universality.

Marian Ruccius said...

Well, there are many countries, parliamentary monarchies, where the public purpose is vested in the Crown, whose authority is in turn limited via responsible government (especially Parliament's control of the purse). This fits with Weberian foundations of MMT, and allows for extension into popular consent, especially if political parties are apportioned seats via mixed-member proportional representation, which imparts stability to Parliament.

Tom Hickey said...

I think that in contemporary times, the overwhelming agreement of Western thinkers is that sovereignty rests with the people (popular sovereignty) and that this is a sine qua non of liberalism. Popular sovereignty and modern historical reality was first enshrined in the US Constitution, in particular the preamble, which begins, "We the people of the United States."

The Declaration of Independence had already asserted the people's right to revolt against an authority that intransigently suppressed human and civil rights.

Implicit in this is that societies where this is not the case are not free and that the free world should work to advance political change in those societies, e.g, by supporting popular revolts against repressive regimes (and even fomenting them). This is the basis of the neoconservatism that dominates US foreign policy.

In the West, everything follows from the assumption of liberalism. However, even through there is basic agreement over the principle, there is disagreement over what constitutes liberalism and what this implies socially, politically and economically. But almost all political factions align with this key assumption of popular sovereignty.

Not that the meaning and import of "popular sovereignty" is generally agreed upon in all respects. But it is generally agreed that that at the time, it was an assertion against all precedent since ancient Greece that is was the citizens themselves that we collectively fundamental politically and that their rights were ultimate.

The Constitution makes clear that the federal government is the supreme sovereign within the bounds specified and later interpreted by the courts, and that the states are subordinately sovereign within the union, although with various powers reserved to the states. The Bill of Rights ensures that neither the federal government nor state governments can impinge on the civil rights of citizens as set forth in the various amendments.

The American myth is that the revolt of the colonies was over taxation without representation. The slogan was, "Taxation without representation is tyranny." Out of this grew the doctrine of popular sovereignty expressed through popular election of a government constituted of the people's representatives that the people elected and could recall from office.

This was unprecedented at the time and set the course of history. Owing to conditions prevailing then a representative form of government (republicanism) as the only workable solution. Now that is no long the case and popular participatory democracy, as in the Athenian agora, is possible.

Other countries, with long histories of other illiberal systems, may have modified them considerably but many haven't yet caught up with the United States owing to custom, traditions, class and power structure, and legal and economic endowments. Simultaneously, the US is slipping backward toward a plutocratic oligarchy. However, the philosophy remains intact even when it is not lived up to. We at least pretend that public purpose is determined by the people though elections that send representative to government to carry out the people's wishes expressed in terms of basic government philosophy and taking a stance on the issue of the day.

When this becomes more stylized fact at odds with actual fact and the people's experience, then there the possibility of change through the ballot box looms large. This is the empirical proof of popular sovereignty. The United States has made major changes over its history and will most likely in the future. For anyone who has much experience of it, the GOP has morphed considerably recently, and so has the Democratic Party post New Deal. This was reflected economically policywise in the rise of Keynesianism during the New Deal and then a resurgence of neoclassical economics in the Seventies.

Marian Ruccius said...

Intransigently suppressed human and civil rights? A bit heavy, don't you think? Because the Monarch wanted to tax smugglers? How many signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 owned slaves?
Estimates vary,but out of 56 signers, one-third to one-half of them owned slaves. The Loyalists contained fewer slavers than the revolutionary armies, and were, if anything, ethnically more diverse.

Tom Hickey said...

Not much different from Athens, the birthplace of Western democracy.

As I said, there is a difference between stylized fact and actual fact.

The difference is that thought is ideal and history is messy. This was Hegel's point in the difference between the logic and the phenomenology, the articulation of the abstract in thought and its concretization in experience.

The historical fact is that prior to the American revolution, democracy was just an ideal. The founding documents of the United States made it real legally if not yet actually. We are still working on it in fits and starts.

It's still going to take some time before even a proto-democracy emerges as actual government of the people, by the people and for the people — and history doesn't offer much encouragement. This is breaking new ground.

Given history, one could say that even with all the warts, we are in new territory with the notion of popular sovereignty and public purpose in the hands of the people. We can say with some confidence that history now has a liberal bias. But there's a long way to go before even minimal success can be proclaimed in actualizing the degree of freedom necessary to actually exercise popular sovereignty.

On the other hand, development is not linear and ups and downs can be anticipated as radical and reactionary forces clash. It's a dialectical process.

What is significant is that the paradigm was not only propounded philosophically in the Enlightenment but also realized legally and institutionally in the founding of America. It was an unlikely achievement that could never have been anticipated based on history. Other colonies never pulled it off.

What is particularly significant now is that the knowledge, technology and economic basis is available to achieve the ideal of popular sovereignty progressively.

It was not possible practically either in Athens or at the time of America's founding. Now it is. What's lacking is the will to do it.

I think that is the thrust of Roger's point. We can do it but not only aren't making the attempt but also don't ever seem to be aware of the potential. How do we address that gap?

Roger Erickson said...