The Clash of Myths
The late Samuel Phillips Huntington was an American political scientist who is best known for proposing the contemporary Clash of Civilizations theory. Huntington is, of course, commonly referenced in discourse about clashes between the so-called ‘West’ and the ‘Islamic World.’ While I was still a student at St Mary’s College, I remember my Form 3 History teacher, Ms. Fabian, explaining that ‘ideology’ was at the core of most if not all historical conflicts. What made Huntington’s position interesting to me was that he believed that the age of ideology had ended and that the world had reverted to a normal state of affairs characterized by religious/cultural conflict.
I say that we forget the clash between civilizations and look at the clash happening within civilizations. Of course, the ‘West’ is by no means a homogeneous entity as within the ‘West,’ There is a healthy debate on the core ethos or mythologies that frame it. As a film fan, I have found documentary film-maker Michael Moore particularly adept at challenging some of these myths. By ‘myth,’ I mean a story that explains the world view of a people. Today, two of these central myths that I see debated almost daily in the press are around social inequality and how leaders should take us out of the present economic difficulties.
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I will briefly consider social inequality first. On the one hand, many believe that social inequality is the inevitable result of a meritocratic socio-economic-political system that rewards hard work with upward social mobility and punishes ‘lazy’ people with life on the lower end of the social spectrum. On the other hand, others see what Alan Greenspan called in 2008, a ‘flaw’ in our system.
There are many flaws in our present system in the West, which require careful government intervention. So the debate about social programs, including support for the unemployed and the socially disadvantaged, continues. Almost daily, we can read the most scathing and vicious attacks on various government-funded social programs. Yet these people seem oblivious to the other point of view. Harvard University’s Louis Hyman has demonstrated that income inequality in the U.S. peaked at two times in the twentieth century – 1929 and 2007. We all know what happened right after each peak (1929 and 2007) – the great depression and the 2008 crash. Among supporters, the debate over income inequality is too often framed within a moral context. It is not ‘fair,’ or it is not a ‘good thing.’ Here we argue for greater levels of income inequality being bad for the entire society and the entire economy. It may actually contribute to economic instability (we already know that it contributes to social instability).
My position on the issue of social inequality is crystal clear. The debate needs to and will continue to shift away from attacking/defending social spending / social programs (sometimes called entitlement spending) to re-engineering these programs to reduce dependency, reduce abuse, encouraging education/training and entrepreneurship. My position on the second myth is more uncertain. The second somewhat related debate surrounds the right approach for pulling our Western economies out of their present slump.
In terms of this second myth, I will shy away from terms like Keynesian and Monetarist and speak about those who believe that when the economy is in a slump, governments need to cut spending to stay within our means versus those who believe that the government needs to use debt to keep spending high to pull the economy out of the slump. Neither side can really draw from history to support their position because our economies have never been so interrelated and so structured to make such comparisons valid. So like two people passionately arguing in favor of their own religion, it sometimes degenerates into a case of who can shout louder. Personally, I honestly do not know which side, if any, to support, so I sit back and watch.
I have been trying hard to find a credible yet optimistic take on our Western economies' challenges. Specifically, it is hard to find anyone confident about our western economies pulling out of the present slump in a timely fashion. Last year there was talk about ‘green shoots,’ but celebrations were premature. It seems as if what is really required is not more patchwork but a radical redesign of our present economic arrangements. A word of caution - we should hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
My name is Derren Joseph, and I love my country, and I love my region. Despite our current challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will all enjoy a brighter tomorrow.
Read more on derrenjoseph.blogspot.com.
Note: The blog that used to be here is now at https://www.mooresrowland.tax/.