Tuesday, 12 April 2016

37. State tax v rent seeking economy: in today's world Jane Austen would be an economics reporter

With the Panama Papers, an underground war seems to be coming to the surface: the one that confronts two models: tax-supported states v rent-seeking landlords and "servicelords" (electricity, gas, water, etc).

The hidden structure
Most of our mental processes are unconscious. That gives them speed and capacity for processing. Our reptilian and mammalian brain are much faster in making quick and arbitrary decisions and process information than the pre-frontal cortex and, as they deal with matters of survival, they have higher hierarchy.

Most of our political ideas are governed by the brain that introduced social interaction and order to our evolution, the mammalian brain (or monkey brain). It makes decisions based on emotions and our unconscious inherited ideas of social order. In most cases, we understand politics based on our family or our ideal family structure (the structure we learned it is better to warrant our survival). We equate and respond emotionally to the candidates depending on which "family model" represent, and that's why appearing with spouses and what's their spouses profile is, are important reinforcements the candidates have to display. This is at least until we create an emotional distance with our ideas and we allow our rational mind to question why we feel what we feel and start the slow subconscious restructuring work.

In this article that appeared in Evonomics, Prof. George Lakoff in his article "No one knows why Trump is winning: here's what cognitive science says" writes how cognitive science explains that we metaphorically associate politics with family which puts Donald Trump as the candidate for a public with male dominated family models.

This social structure has been historically based in presenting men (and conservatives) as pure and owners of an indisputable moral superiority, whilst women are either corrupt and deficient (or possessors of beauty as their only power), justifying male's appropriation of power, property and decision making. By highlighting her links with the establishment and Wall Street funding, the attack on Hillary's candidacy is touching on this old, untrue but still unconsciously widely accepted premise, even if it might be a reasonable concern.

But beyond this presidential race in the US, there is a wider and global phenomenon going on: a war between rent-seeking and tax paying models, that challenges the idea of a democratic nation as the basic structural global order.

State tax and state debt

States are unconsciously perceived as feminine and maternal, so when we have an emotional response towards the state, we are in some cases projecting our unresolved issues with our mothers. I mean this, without removing any validity to any of the issues we may have with the state (or with our mothers!). I intend only to highlight that a lot of the emotional charge might not be entirely well placed and might blind us in finding a balanced response.

States can be perceived as invasive (dwelling too much in private matters), predatory (eating from us), neglecting (not paying due attention to the vulnerable), corrupt (the one that sells what is supposed to protect, the one that is disconnected to its original purpose), inefficient (wasting energy or resources in things that our not our primary concern), dictatorial (unilateral, cruel, not listening to us, castrating), etc, etc. In all this emotional logic, paying tax equates to a deep tension: feeding my mother is wrong, when she is supposed to feed me (with food, attention and unconditional love).

Of course, we are all adults now, but if we were not properly recognised in our individuality and were not fed with love and attention (most likely we have been left at least partially unsatisfied), we might be holding on to a feeling that either "she owes me", or if our mothers were so "hungry" of attention and recognition that she fed from our attention (with narcissist or controlling attitudes), in not paying we are staging a resistance to this unbalance, this abuse, and gives us the feeling we are liberating ourselves from her damaging hunger.

Because this issue is so emotionally dominant, we do not create the gap needed for our reasoning to stop justifying automatically our behaviour and thoughts, and question what goes on in which level. This underlying feeling of maternal debt (=state debt), makes us blind to all the things the state does provide (or can or should) to us or to the wider community and how structurally important this is for society.

Neoliberlism is where old conservatives  (I would argue that there is a place for a new/modern conservatism) and liberals (the political child in the trio right, left, liberalism) agree that the enemy they should get liberated from is the state (ie the mother) but without acknowledging their own dependency. In this sense, they share what I would call an "individuation paradox", they fight for cutting dependency of the state, but they are not individuated enough to see what the state is there for, or even to find business outside the state sphere.

Neoliberal ideas have a particular bias regarding the role of the state. It includes many ideas that are based on the very old need to demonise and dis-empower the state (what's female) to become "neoliberated" from it. It is not too far fetched to say there are connections that draw parallels between the old ideas regarding the role of women in society and the current ideas regarding the role of states: ideas like "women cannot have properties or run businesses" with "states should not have properties or run businesses", between "women as the temptresses and sources of all sin" with this very current idea of "all politics is corrupt, let the CEOs and corporations run the show" and "corrupt states"; between the control of women sexual power and uterus (women's bodies must be controlled externally) with the trade agreements that externalise justice and budgets that do not focus on its own will to create: the long term investments and innovation; "women should not interfere with men's businesses" with seeing all regulation as an undesirable state intervention; the idea that women are the ones that should sacrifice themselves (absorbing, internalising and taking ownership of an external lack) to states coming to the rescue and absorbing private debt to convert it in public debt, for which then the states are to blame on how they manage it, forgetting what was the real source of that debt; between "women as passive receptors" (always open to receive but never to demand) with the idea that "governments should be passive tax collectors"; "the only way to secure a future for women is to marry well" with "the only way for governments to succeed is to attract rich investors" etc. etc. In today's world, Jane Austen would be an economics reporter.

Rights v benefits

In our child stage, our biology assumes we will get acceptance, recognition of existence, shelter, food and love. These are rights that we get for "free". We are in Eden. From this perspective, it is interesting how the word "right" has made a come back in centre-left political speech. To a child, the 700-1000 calories a mother gives him/her in the form of milk has no earthly supply chain: the mother is a divine source of food, that does not need anything. Mothers were not taught how to feed themselves, while the rest of the adult part of the family (especially fathers) sometimes disconnect themselves from the supporting task. The sad thing is that when communities and societies do not support mothers in good enough measure while they are doing this job, mothers may start to feel empty, unseen, unrecognised and their reptilian brain -concerned for their survival- ends up rationalising how much food, attention, energy, they give their children (austerity), or start to feed attention from them (or they stop having children altogether).
In both cases, children are left with this feeling of maternal debt, hungry and angry. 
This is why in a context of economical austerity, anger arises which tends to be deflected towards immigrants, who are then blamed for the shortage of food, jobs and attention.

When a hungry mother does not challenge the social order that does not support her, she turns her attention to what's perceived as an energy drain: her mind justifies this, building a narrative where rights become benefits. And benefits can easily become expendable and fees become reasonable: the system feeds from bottom up. In this sense, putting the main pressure on workers to sustain society is similar to a family saying "the only way this family will survive is for this baby to eat less or even better, if he pays rent" (think of the student debt situation in the US when reading this line).

Interestingly enough, in this model, the top reaches the "Eden/paradise" they feel they never had and is due to them in tax havens. Let's remember that Paradise/Eden represents an idealised matriarchal stage. Let's also bear in mind that in Elite circles maternal attachment tends to be severed very early and sometimes traumatically, including through the use of boarding schools. In the individuation paradox, conservatives believe in their own patriarchal role of separating children from mothers as early as possible, as the only way for them to become individuated and independent, whilst conservatism itself is about not changing anything about the inherited ideas, sometimes not even the decoration in your inherited house.

At political level, this is reinforced by the erosion of state rights with trade agreements that minimise competition for corporations and maximise competition amongst workers. It is not an anecdote that in these agreements, once a service has been privatised cannot be nationalised again. Typical public services have a rent based model profiting from infrastructure normally built by the state. In the hands of the state, services like heating or water are considered first a right then a source of income, in private hands, it is a service and an income and probably for monopolies, only income.

Rent-based societies are based on hungry babies, disempowered women and minorities, disempowered states and the erosion of the very idea of civil (and economic) rights.

An obedient left 

In this context, the left is mocked, presumed incapable and something between idealist and ridiculous. In its polarised female role, it is subjugated under the patriarchal law too. It is forbidden for the left to write History or claim for the forgotten chapters, to assume power, to form circles and associate. And even if it does not hold power, it is forced to show self-criticism by the media in front of any wrong from the right, as it is the one that should assume negativity and guilt.  It is blamed for losing sight of the class struggle and losing the economical argument in favour of identity politics, when class tends to be the result of the right-wing hierarchical logic. They do somehow, however, play the polarised game by just 'inverting the electrical charge', by labelling positive what the other side considers negative. 
In opposition to the obedient left, the right presents itself as the "true" authority by showing itself to be rule-breaker, through breaking the codes of what now is called political correctness daring to be openly misogynist, racist and xenophobic.

An optimistic view

The reason why I'm optimistic about the future is that we've moved away from this way of thinking, particularly in the last few years were many pennies dropped, and almost all of a sudden many issues -such as equal marriage, gender identity rights, pro-choice, etc- stopped being issues in many countries. Other issues that used to be denied or considered resolved (such as racism) are having once more a visibility push. Motherhood (which -I argue- determines a lot about society architecture) is evolving with mothers in general being a bit more relaxed, following their instincts and approaching motherhood more naturally.
If these structures have already changed or are changing at the foundations level, it will eventually and inexorably trickle up. On the same note, we always need to bear in mind that any reactionary movement that on the surface deals with economical, political and even geopolitical issues, will try to revert progress picking on the issue of gender and sexuality.

Probably, this is what caused a first "shake" when the Pope felt he needed to speak about family this year. Without changing dogma or a still holding a conservative view of families, sexuality and women (which in my view is a deep rooted inconsistency), it seems to be more of a push for the church to connect to a changing reality. And the ever increasing demonstrations on the street might do the same with the leaders of the economy, who seem to be able to make decisions in complete oblivion of the effects they have in the real world (on society or on the environment).

Tensions are good

The sense that dependency is a drain for society is an admission of weakness. An admission of "lack of adultness", as if we do not have the resources or the tools to take care of people in dependant situations. However, accepting dependency as a possible reality of many people (children, unemployed, disabled, retired, even a worker is dependant), does not mean that there is no room for a conservative voice (embodying the patriarchal father) that sees dependency as a stage one should overcome or at least as a situation that should not stop us from the exploration of abilities. But ultimately they would however bear the weight of the responsibility without so much complaining that it is not fair.

Sharing a sense that tax is needed to enable states sustain common spaces, services, or to make high-risk and long term investments does not mean that it is not important to sustain a tension with someone who thinks the state can be corrupt and should be checked upon, or that taxes are too high and hold a battle of how much the state feeds from the private sector or the individual citizens.

Even if off-shoring is "legal", the amounts that is draining out of economies now is so big that in many cases countries have an equivalent of their annual GDP off-shore. In front of these facts, we also need to sustain the other side that creates a tension against these abuses.

Balancing individualism and collectivism has to come from this tension, where there are economic rights (eg the right to shelter, to make a living or receive support when it is not possible, etc) and civil rights are granted at individual level and they are the enablers of social and individual responsibility.

The real rebellion in today's world is against the idea of TINA (there is no alternative) and these speeches that ask us to be united, when they actually mean we should all think the same. We have to rescue the importance of the division of power and the acceptance of tensions as the natural digestive system of a democratic society.