¿Por dónde empezar con la corrupción: el gran reto del nuevo gobierno?

Published in Arestegui Noticias (July 11, 2018): https://m.aristeguinoticias.com/1107/mexico/por-donde-empezar-con-la-corrupcion-el-gran-reto-del-nuevo-gobierno-articulo/

El compromiso más importante de Andrés Manuel López Obrador es abatir a la corrupción. Y el reto es tremendo no solo por los altos niveles de corrupción, sino porque infiltra casi todas partes de los gobiernos y la sociedad, y toma muchas formas y patrones. Este desafío es más grandes si tomamos en cuenta el hecho de que pocos países del mundo han tenido mucho éxito en sus esfuerzas de reducir la corrupción a pesar de programas integrales, la ayuda de ONG´s nacionales e internacionales, las demandas del pueblo y las promesas de los políticos. Siquiera en México, los presidentes solían llegar a la silla prometiendo una lucha frontal contra la corrupción, una renovación moral en el lenguaje de Miguel de la Madrid o un programa amplio como el de Fox al derrotar al PRI, pero al final de cuentas sin mucho éxito.

Por la magnitud del problema surge la pregunta ¿por dónde empezar? Es claro que se requiere un esfuerzo amplio e integral con muchas iniciativas desde todas las instituciones, enfocando en la prevención, la procuración de la justicia, cambios normativos, el fortalecimiento de las instituciones de la rendición de cuentas, la participación ciudadana, etc., pero también hay que pensar en las prioridades: áreas que pueden tener mayor impacto en otros campos, facilitando el trabajo más amplio, y arrancando círculos virtuosos. En adición, hay que adoptar una estrategia diferente de todos los demás anteriores que han fallado en crear cambios duraderos en el sistema e incluso en la cultura política.

Por eso, apunto aquí de forma muy humilde tres áreas que desde mi punto de vista se deben priorizar: la impunidad, la participación de la ciudadanía y utilizar y fomentar la base de la anticorrupción existente.

La impunidad no es una forma de la corrupción, sino una consecuencia de la corrupción. Si es por dinero o por favores políticos que la policía, el ministerio público, un juez no cumplen con su deber de administrar la justicia de acuerdo a la ley, la corrupción es el cohecho; el efecto, con resultados y repercusiones fuertes a la sociedad, es la impunidad.

Fortalecer las instituciones formales, como el sistema judicial, se trata más bien de debilitar las instituciones informales como la corrupción. Por lo general, los mexicanos están acostumbrados de utilizar cualquier mecanismo disponible para arreglar un asunto aunque sea de forma chueca. Como dicen, siempre hay manera de arreglarse en México. Esta facilidad se debe, al final de cuentas, a la impunidad, o sea la falta de consecuencias de seguir la forma informal. Si yo sé o la policía o quien sea del gobierno saben que no van a sufrir ninguna consecuencia por buscar y utilizar las formas informales (corrupción), entonces vale la pena (es racional) utilizarlas. Esto es la impunidad que hay que atacar ampliamente en México. Esto requiere fortalecer la nueva fiscalía contra la corrupción y que ejerza su labor con el apoyo del gobierno y con total legitimidad, y crear una cultura de la denuncia (ahora no denuncian por la impunidad) dentro y fuera del gobierno. Se necesita estimular un círculo virtuoso en que bajando la impunidad se anima a la gente a denunciar la corrupción, lo cual disminuye la impunidad. Pero a final de cuentas, todos van a tener que aceptar la idea de que no van a existir estos arreglos fáciles como antes. Claro que la gente se queja de la corrupción que les perjudica, pero en realidad no nos quejamos de la corrupción que utilizamos para nuestro bien: cuando la corrupción nos ahorra tiempo con los trámites, o para conseguir un permiso que no deberíamos recibir, o para evitar una infracción, etc. Pero si existiera la posibilidad de meterse en un problema mayor por ofrecer un pago extraoficial o pedirlo, no le quedaría otro que seguir las reglas formales. Ahí es donde tiene que llegar México para tener un verdadero estado de derecho.

Atacar la impunidad es sin duda el trabajo más importante en el nuevo México. El gobierno no debe de ir solo por los de arriba y los del sexenio anterior (urgen las investigaciones y castigos en los casos pendientes de los gobernadores, estafa maestra, revisar los contratos de la reforma energética y el NAICM, etc.), sino a la corrupción de todos los niveles y toda índole. En fin, todos tienen la responsabilidad y deben rendir cuentas, incluso los ciudadanos.

Así se llega a la segunda prioridad en la lucha contra la corrupción: la participación ciudadana. La experiencia en México y otros lugares nos ha mostrado claramente que el gobierno no puede (y en realidad no quiere) eliminar la corrupción sin la ayuda y la participación de la gente. A menudo lo que quiere el gobierno es ganar legitimidad por su retórica contra la corrupción mientras vayan protegiendo sus privilegios y amigos. Reconocemos que gran parte de la causa fundamental de la corrupción o el abuso del poder es la debilidad de la gente. Cuando un policía, burócrata, o político lleva un poder y discrecionalidad abrumadora frente al ciudadano, es fácil explotarlo y extorsionarlo; y por el lado del ciudadano, llega a sentir que el oficial le está haciendo un favor por el cual le tiene que agradecer. De esta forma, el ciudadano tiene miedo a los oficiales del Estado, quienes suelen abusar de su poder. La tarea entonces es llegar a un mejor balance para que los del gobierno también teman a los ciudadanos a quienes deben servir. La rendición de cuenta, además del aspecto horizontal, es vertical y los del gobierno deben estar vigilados por los ciudadanos y rendirles cuentas.

Incorporar al ciudadano a la anticorrupción tiene muchos aspectos. Por un lado, como ha practicado México en reformas recientes, se trata de ciudadanizar a las instituciones. Pero una vez hecho, estos tienden a ser capturados por intereses partidarios u otros como ocurrió con el IFE/INE. Hay que buscar una fórmula para prevenir eso. Incorporar a la gente en una campaña contra la corrupción se trata también de enfocar sobre la cultura de la corrupción, no entendida como causa de la corrupción como señaló una vez Peña Nieto, sino como una consecuencia de la corrupción que crea un dilema de la acción colectiva y que funciona para mantener la corrupción y debilitar a los programas en su contra.
Con tanto apoyo y legitimidad con que llegan al poder AMLO y Morena, es el mejor momento en la historia para crear un gran movimiento ciudadano contra la corrupción. Este movimiento tiene que exigir y apoyar a los cambios, tiene que participar en las organizaciones cívicas que deben tener un papel oficial de vigilar a los funcionarios, tiene que educar a la gente sobre sus derechos y crear una cultura de la denuncia, y tienen que dirigir el cambio cultural desde abajo. Desde la base, los municipios tienen que ser participativo reflejando los intereses y demandas de la comunidad. La policía local tiene que rendir cuentas hacia “arriba” a la ciudadanía, no “abajo” a sus mandos a quienes paguen parte de sus “ganancias.” Y como mencioné antes, este gran movimiento ciudadano contra la corrupción tendrá que jugar un papel fundamental en revertir a la impunidad. Hay que romper el dilema colectivo, creando un círculo virtuoso en donde tiene más sentido cumplir la norma y la institución formal que participar en la corrupción.

Sin un movimiento popular contra la corrupción, los programas del gobierno (desde “arriba” desde la perspectiva tradicional), a pesar de las buenas intenciones que haya, no tendrán mucho éxito a largo plazo. La lección aprendida a través de los años es siempre dudar de los del gobierno, especialmente sus promesas de acabar con la corrupción. Aunque tiene su costo, esta desconfianza es algo bueno porque fortalece la responsabilidad del pueblo de exigir al gobierno, pero la gente no va a participar si no tiene confianza en las intenciones de los del gobierno. Por lo tanto, el programa del nuevo gobierno contra la corrupción tiene que ser transparente y más allá del reproche. El gobierno no merece confianza, tiene que ganarla. Y es la honestidad y firmeza de AMLO las que crean el momento histórico para ganar la confianza.

Y por tercero, hay que construir sobre lo existente, incorporando y movilizando el ejército de guerreros anticorrupción, fortaleciendo las instituciones actuales del gobierno y la sociedad civil para crear una cultura contra la corrupción. Suele ser que llega el nuevo presidente mexicano y borran la cuenta y empiezan de nuevo, descartando el trabajo, la gente y las instituciones anteriores. Sin embargo, uno de los cambios más notables en México en las últimas décadas ha sido el desarrollo de una comunidad y una cultura de la anticorrupción ubicado en las universidades, la sociedad civil e incluso en varias partes del gobierno. Ya hay en México mucha gente dedicada al análisis de la corrupción y a la lucha en su contra. Organizaciones de la sociedad civil – como Transparencia Mexicana, Mexicanos contra la Corrupción e Impunidad, Red Rendición de Cuentas, y muchos otros – y burócratas profesionales en FP, ASF, y otras partes del gobierno. Son gente con buenas intenciones de acabar con la corrupción y es importante que el nuevo equipo de AMLO incorpore esta gente a la tarea de alguna manera. Aunque no todos estamos de acuerdo de cómo abatir a la corrupción, sí estamos de acuerdo en la urgencia de la tarea y el nuevo gobierno necesita de su apoyo, su experiencia, el conocimiento, y la energía de este gran ejército.

De modo similar, a pesar de sus deficiencias, el nuevo esfuerzo tiene que construirse arriba del SNA y las instituciones actuales. Claro que necesita muchas reformas y todavía faltan los nombramientos fundamentales, pero el SNA da la pauta para coordinar un amplio frente contra la corrupción basado en las pillares institucionales. Pero mientras el SNA da el marco, será un gran reto para que el nuevo gobierno coordine y articule todo este sistema desarticulado. Pero dada la magnitud del problema, el gobierno de la transformación necesitará de las instituciones pillares como ASF, INAI, Fiscalía especial, el Tribunal Administrativo, INAI, SAT, SFP, el comité ciudadano, pero las tienen que fortalecer, profesionalizar, y proveer los fondos necesarios para montar un golpe fuerte contra la corrupción. Aquí hay que reconocer que aunque quizá a largo plazo acabar con la corrupción ahorrará dinero, como ha prometido AMLO, en el corto plazo la tarea va a costar dinero.

La corrupción es tal vez el problema central que enfrenta México en el sentido que reduciendo la corrupción es fundamental para lograr otros objetivos. Reducir la corrupción es necesario para crear mayor seguridad, para mejorar el sistema educativo, para promover el desarrollo económico, para reducir la pobreza, para instituir un estado de derecho, para crear un enlace saludable entre el pueblo y sus servidores, y para aumentar la confianza en el gobierno y entre los mexicanos. Es una tarea tan grande como la magnitud del problema, pero el país nunca ha estado en una posición mejor para enfrentarla que este momento. AMLO llega con un apoyo masivo y un mandato popular de atacar frontalmente a la corrupción y su gente, como Dra. Sandoval, la próxima secretaria de la Función Pública, a diferencia de otras, trae una perspectiva más amplia sobre la naturaleza de la corrupción, viéndola como un problema estructural que requiere una redistribución del poder dentro de la sociedad y en la relación estado-sociedad. En vez de seguir las fórmulas de los economistas del FMI, el Banco Mundial y el gobierno de EU -programas que no han tenido mucho éxito mundialmente- veremos un enfoque progresista y popular de luchar contra la corrupción; una lucha que empodere a la gente para fortalecer al estado en vez de simplemente desmantelar al estado al estilo neoliberal. Por el bien de México, todos debemos apoyar este esfuerzo porque sin una movilización masiva, sufrirá el mismo destino que los programas anticorrupción anteriores. La lucha contra la corrupción no es nada más ni menos que la lucha verdadera por la democracia y abatir la corrupción será la gran transformación a que se refiere López Obrador.

*Stephen D. Morris es profesor del Departamento de Ciencia Política y Relaciones Internacionales de la Middle Tennessee State University. 

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“Radical Islamic Terrorism” or “Religious Terrorists”

(revised from “Mosque-like Establishments at (or near) Ground Zero” posted on October 6, 2010)

Following the deadly shooting in Orlando, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump lambasted President Obama for not using the exact term “radical Islamic terrorism.” Beyond the shift in nomenclature, Trump has gone so far as to suggest a ban on immigrants who profess this religious faith (I suppose they could lie – or we could bring back the inquisition), that we monitor mosques, and even engage in “racial” or, I suppose, “religious” profiling. We could limit their movement or maybe even use reeducation (assimilation) camps. According to Trump, such restrictions and monitoring will prevent Muslims already here from becoming radicalized while blocking the entrance of future terrorists, thus helping to prevent any future attacks on the US here at home. The broader narrative envisions what Huntington labeled a “clash of civilizations,” but which proponents really see as a clash of civilization against incivility or barbarism, painting the Islamic religion itself as violent and even evil.

Perhaps they indeed have a point… but why draw the line of demarcation at the denominational level? These “radical” terrorists (can you really be “a non-radical” terrorist?) are not just Muslim, but religious fanatics, motivated by an uncompromising faith that asserts to know the truth based not on evidence or rational thought, but on sacred texts, weird stories, and metaphysics. Though their motivations and even frustrations are at heart political, it is religion that provides these terrorists their overriding sense of purpose, and a tool to distinguish right from wrong in a broader sense than the here-and-now. Their religion, it seems, at least in their eyes and heart, justify their actions in part by anointing and celebrating deeds designed to spread and honor their faith; their religion minimizes the importance of life in the here and now; and their religion promises them all a reward in the afterlife.

Perhaps then out of respect for the victims of such terrorist acts there should be limits and monitoring not just on Muslims, but on all religious people. History clearly demonstrates the potential for any religion to radicalize and support and justify violence – not just Muslims. This is particularly true for all the religions bent on proselytizing, on spreading the faith, on literally “taking over the world,” and/or on imposing their views and laws on everyone (tell me again why I can’t buy booze on Sunday). Indeed, religion lies behind the terrorist attacks. But targeting just the Muslims while allowing other religious institutions to carry on without restriction seems almost to fan the religious flames, privileging one religion over another when, if we cast the net wide enough, all could be considered potentially threatening and should be condemned.

Many will reject this idea as nonsense. Protestants and Catholics will surely point out that “they” did not blow up the twin towers, bomb marathon runners in Boston, or kill so many at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Indeed, why condemn all religions when the terrorists are of one particular religion (the Christian mass shooter in Charleston?) ?

Maybe they have a point… why condemn an entire class of people (the religious) for the actions of a few (the Muslims)? But where then should we draw the lines of demarcation? Who should be included and who should be excluded? According to the same logic, why condemn an entire class of people (Muslims) by the actions of a few (the terrorists)? Just as we can differentiate among religions – despite their commonalities and history of violence — surely we can differentiate between these two groups – despite their commonalities — and not consider them to be synonymous. So, rather than call them “radical Islamic terrorists” why not simply “religious terrorists”?

Stephen D. Morris
June 2016

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Guns and Abortion

The US Constitution protects both the right to bear arms and the right of women to an abortion. But despite similar constitutional protections, governments at both state and federal levels have erected numerous laws determining whether, when and under what circumstances a woman may obtain an abortion. Just as the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion, 32 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of state funds for an abortion except where the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Forty-one states prohibit abortions after a specified point in the pregnancy, often fetal viability, except when necessary to protect the woman’s life or health. Arkansas sports the most restrictive law, allowing women to exercise their constitutional right only through the 6th week of pregnancy. Forty-six states allow individual health care providers to refuse to participate in an abortion, while 43 states allow institutions to refuse to perform abortions. Twenty-six states require a woman seeking an abortion to wait a specified period of time, usually 24 hours, between when she receives counseling and the procedure is performed. Nine of these states have laws that effectively require the woman to make two separate trips to the clinic to obtain the procedure. Some have gone so far as to suggest requiring invasive and unnecessary procedures, from vaginal ultrasounds to complete hospital conditions for abortion clinics.

Rather than trying to persuade women not to get an abortion, once the main approach of pro-lifers, thus curtailing demand based on a moral argument, the current approach seeks to use laws and regulations to restrict the supply of abortion and make it exceedingly difficult for women to exercise their legal right. Apparently, laws are so restrictive in the state of Mississippi that only one abortion clinic operates in the state. But it is not clear whether such restrictions will prevent women who want an abortion from actually getting one; instead, as Chris Matthews recently noted, it may just be punishing them by increasing the costs in terms of time, money, and inconvenience for exercising their constitutional right.

In a somewhat similar manner, despite the constitutional protection to bear arms, government restricts the right to guns. Felons cannot buy guns legally, and sales of certain types of weapons are banned. But the differences here far outweigh the similarities. The limitations on this constitutional provision are relatively few.  Generally, guns are much easier to obtain than abortions, not just in Mississippi but throughout the country. The restrictions on the suppliers are limited (hence gun shows), and buyers are not harassed with invasive probes.

Interestingly, many of those who support using the law to limit the constitutional right to an abortion oppose any similar use of the law to restrict the constitutional right to bear arms. Their opposition to abortion is built on moral grounds, which is certainly understandable and defensible, but their opposition to more restrictive gun laws rests on the constitutional provision. Opposition to: thorough background checks, a ban on certain sized magazines or assault weapons, registration of guns, liability insurance for gun owners, certified training for gun owners, stricter laws to prevent the unauthorized sale of guns, penalties for selling guns to terrorists, etc. are vehemently opposed by many precisely because it violates the 2nd amendment to the Constitution. Of course, such laws would not ban the right of citizens to own a gun, but would merely provide legal parameters for exercising that constitutional right. In that the great majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens, then they should not fear any of these restrictions. Many politicians and the NRA leadership, of course, oppose many if not all of these measures simply because they limit the constitutional right, and because of some teleological insight that this is the first step in repealing the second amendment. Of course, no one has suggested that it be repealed (I do – see the subsequent blog). And yet many of these same politicians have no problem whatsoever with limiting a women’s constitutional right to privacy.

If protecting a constitutional right is the foundation for the argument to oppose gun laws, then why is it not a compelling argument against laws limiting the right of women to exercise their right to an abortion? How can you support limitations to a constitutional right in one case, but oppose it in another? If the moral argument trumps the constitutional right on the abortion issue, then consistency demands that you frame your opposition to gun laws on moral grounds. So what is the moral argument against banning assault weapons?

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Repeal the Second Amendment

Repeal the second amendment to the US Constitution. I know this would never happen in the US, but I seriously doubt many counties in the world would vote today to include in their constitution a sweeping amendment granting citizens the right to bear arms. If it were not in the US Constitution, would it be possible today to acquire the 2/3 majorities in both houses and ¾ of the states to put it in?

Most arguments against gun control are rooted in the constitutional protection. Opposition to: thorough background checks, a ban on certain sized magazines or assault weapons, registration of guns, liability insurance for gun owners, certified training for gun owners, stricter laws to prevent the unauthorized sale of guns, penalties for selling guns to terrorists, etc. are vehemently opposed by many because it violates the 2nd amendment to the Constitution. In many ways then, the second amendment gives opponents the upper hand in the argument and weakens that of supporters of gun control.

Obviously absent the second amendment, opponents to gun control would have to ground their argument on something else. They might employ some sort of moral argument about the right to property (worked for slavery for a while) or to defend oneself (which is not the moral argument in the Constitution) or for a well-regulated militia to protect the country (which is the argument in the Constitution) or for the pursuit of happiness through sport (how about a constitutional protection to own other sporting goods?). They might employ a more instrumentalist argument about how guns make us safer (or at least feel safer), reduce crime, or help secure food for the table. Either way, removing the second amendment fundamentally alters the debate and changes the owning of guns from a constituted right to a privilege.

Repealing the second amendment does not mean that our society cannot allow for possession of arms. After all, we have legal access to plenty of things that are not spelled out in the constitution, like an education, a driver’s license, to pick up and move whenever and wherever we want (except Cuba), or to other sporting goods. Repealing the second amendment does not mean banning guns, but it would remove an anachronistic freedom that has been totally taken out of context, distorted the political debate, and contributed to all sorts of societal problems. Without the constitutional protection, we could more easily promote disarmament, so that guns are used to shot targets or by hunters to kill animals raised for that purpose, but not people. Repealing the second amendment would not mean that law enforcement could not carry guns. Especially given the fact that millions of guns are out there available to criminals, police need that protection. Repealing the second amendment would not even mean that people could not have a gun in their home for protection, if indeed that makes them feel safer.

To reiterate, repealing the second amendment simply transforms bearing arms from a right to a privilege granted by a democratic society. When opponents argue that such a move would be the first step to banning guns, they seem to forget that the banning of guns (the supposed next step in their imagined scenario) would also be a matter for debate, political negotiation, and resolution within society. Government cannot just take anyone’s guns without a law that allows them to do so. And repealing the second amendment would in no way alter other parts of the Constitution that states how laws are debated, passed, or implemented, or how conflicts are adjudicated. To the paranoid response that without my gun the government can do anything it wants, well your gun has very little impact on decisions about what the government can and cannot do. To my knowledge, despite the second amendment, guns are not permitted in the halls of Congress or State legislatures, or in the courts, or in the offices of the bureaucracies where governments make decisions. The fact that the government requires me to get a license to drive (and periodically renew it even) does not create a fear that they will soon eliminate my right to drive a car.

When some suggested a constitutional amendment essentially banning gay marriage, it was noted that the Constitution had never been used to limit or restrict freedom. The Constitution has always sought to broaden our freedoms, not limit them. Yet one could easily argue that it is the proliferation of guns in our society that restricts freedom rather than nurtures it, borrowing, I believe, from Montesquieu.

If guns made us safer, then we would be the safest society in the world. If guns prevented crime, then we would have lower crime rates than countries that have fewer guns. But neither of those hypotheses is true. To borrow from international relations theory, the second amendment has created a classic security dilemma. Many people feel unsafe because of the proliferation of guns and thus feel the need to purchase a gun. This in turn feeds the sense of insecurity within society. Indeed, the second amendment not only allows people to possess guns, but it may have encouraged people to buy guns over the years.

To play a bit longer in this fantasy land — Not only should we repeal the second amendment and use legislation to try to better manage the sale and use of guns, but we should also promote domestic non-proliferation and even begin a process of changing the culture to reduce the demand for guns. But like repealing the second amendment, that is a tall order. Guns represent a certain narrative about power embedded in US culture: a narrative about power that finds perhaps its greatest expression in the projection of US power and hegemony in the world. The US has a long history of the use of war as an instrument of foreign policy. It is arguably no coincidence that the US is the country with the most guns per capita and the largest military in the world. In fact, we are well ahead of other countries on both counts. At home and abroad our weapons are for defense, but they also get used often to resolve differences. And suggesting limitations on gun ownership often triggers the same reaction as when suggesting steep cuts in military spending.

We know that those who constituted power were fallible. They were historic figures and figures shaped by their history and circumstances. So why should the views of the unelected, unrepresentative and unaccountable founding fathers outweigh the views of contemporary society? We have done it before. The 21st amendment repealed the 18th amendment (I’ll drink to that), the 14th amendment repealed the constitutional protection allowing for slavery for over 70 years, and the 17th amendment repealed sections of Article 1 regarding the elections of senators.

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Creating Jobs, Privileging Business: But Do Businesses Really Create Jobs?

We hear it often that business creates jobs: a notion that seems to go largely unquestioned. Virtually all politicians and pundits accept this basic causal reasoning and from this posture offer countless suggestions regarding appropriate policies. Indeed, this simple notion attaches to a whole range of issues and ideas, of ways of doing politics, and more. The idea that businesses create jobs raises certain questions. If we go so far as to reject this proposition outright, however, it opens up a whole different manner of viewing politics and treating problems like unemployment.

First the questions that help reveal the underlying or hidden tendencies. In a very simplistic sense, of course, businesses do create jobs since many people work for business. This is true, but incomplete, telling only part of the story. Governments also create jobs as do non-profits and organizations that we would not really consider ‘business.’ But why should someone working as a teacher, a cop, a soldier, a staffer at a community organization, or even a doctor not count the same as someone working at Wal-Mart or Starbucks just because the latter are businesses? If only businesses create jobs, then who created those other jobs? By this logic, I suppose, laying- off 100,000 teachers should have no impact on the employment picture since again governments do not create jobs. Of course, some may contend that only businesses create “productive” jobs, but this seems to refer solely to manufacturing or even agricultural jobs, which is a very small portion of our labor market. So if jobs come from different sources other than business, why privilege business in our thinking about the sources of jobs and exclude others?

The mantra that business creates jobs raises even more fundamental questions crystallized by the current electoral races. If businesses create jobs, then why does everyone blame the government for unemployment? Should we not blame business? If there is widespread unemployment and businesses create jobs, then apparently they are not creating enough jobs. Ironically, Democrats and particularly Republicans, who strongly embrace the pro-business position encapsulated in “business creates jobs,” run on a platform of creating jobs. But if businesses and not government create jobs – according to the prevailing logic – then why would you even want to go into government for the purposing of creating jobs: the top issue in this campaign? Since most politicians are also business people, then why not just create jobs from their privileged location where jobs are created: business. Again this is particularly strange and ironic to hear coming from Republicans who a) blame the government for unemployment, b) turnaround and argue that businesses create jobs, and then c) clamor to take control of the government in the name of creating jobs.

Accepting the causal logic that businesses create jobs, of course, leads to the question: why don’t they? The argument usually heard from politicians and pundits is that government – which really does not create jobs according to this narrative – gets in the way of business and thus prevents them from creating jobs. According to this viewpoint, government – which cannot create jobs — must create the conditions conducive for business to do their thing and create jobs. Of course any good analyst immediately recognizes within this explanation that the government in fact does ‘create’ jobs by conditioning the ability of business to create jobs, but that is a different sort of contention than I wish to pursue here.

An alternative explanation often heard why businesses are not creating jobs is because there is no demand. Businesses need customers. And as everyone knows, during a recession demand falls, inventories become bloated, businesses face declining revenue, and lay-off workers. But from this vantage point, businesses do not really create jobs, demand creates jobs.

The difference between the two views — businesses create jobs versus demand creates jobs — may seem trivial and even semantic, but the policy implications and even ideological underpinnings are vastly different. If we accept the notion that businesses create jobs, then we pursue policies that privilege and favor business. This includes tax breaks for business and the wealthy who run the businesses and invest, subsidies, privatization or government out-sourcing, and deregulation, to name a few. Or to put it in Republican terms, policies that get the government off the backs of business. Since jobs are important – a point everyone tends to agree on – and given that businesses create jobs, then such pro-business policies become priorities, prompting politicians to compete against one another to prove their pro-business credentials.  

If, however, we accept the notion that demand creates jobs rather than business, then we must ask why demand is low. This invariably leads us to focus on different factors like incomes, wages, poverty, the struggles of ordinary families to make ends meet, and the distribution of income and wealth. If we look into these areas what we find, as described in detail in the recent works of Robert Reich and Ariana Hunffington, is a pattern of rising inequality. Indeed, the share of income going to the middle and working class in recent decades has fallen. Working class families have struggled amidst declining or stagnant real wages with many leveraging their only asset, their home, to borrow to make ends meet. But that panacea of cheap money to sustain consumer spending is over and demand has plummeted. Meanwhile, the share of income going to the richest segments of the population has skyrocketed while their tax burden has fallen. Not since the 1920s has the share of income going to the wealthiest 1% of the population been so great. Never has their tax burden been so light.

Accepting that demand fuels the creation of jobs, of course, leads to a different policy approach than if we start with the notion that businesses create jobs. Rather than designing policies that favor business, policies targeting demand would favor middle and working class individuals and force us to come face to face with the needs to redistribute income and/or engage in stimulus spending to bolster demand. But not in an ideologically naïve way like most politicians – arguing that they represent the middle and working class and then contend that the best way to help the middle class is to favor big business. Instead, policies would focus on taxing the wealthy to the levels of the past, favoring workers and wage increases, and even subsidizing demand rather than supply. 

Those touting the notion that businesses create jobs and hence favoring pro-business policies would surely scream “class warfare” at this point. But their approach and viewpoint is equally class-oriented: it just favors the business class. If calling for a redistribution of income downward constitutes “class warfare,” then surely promoting policies that redistribute income upward must also qualify as such. The notion that business creates jobs is thus a salvo in class warfare that passes for normal. The notion is so accepted, that we disagree only on how to help businesses in their quest to create jobs. But this, after all, is the power of ideology: to convince and persuade people to the point of creating the notion of universal truth, of accepted wisdom, of fashioning the “point of departure” for any discussion.

Stephen D. Morris, October 2010

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Salary Caps and Elections

All major sports have come to accept the concept of salary caps. Though it was a long fight and even borders on collusion, salary caps have tamed market forces to guarantee a certain level of competition. Teams in big markets and deep pockets are now somewhat limited in being able to buy a team and a championship. Granted, high-priced players and teams do not always when the crown, but they do more often than not. The result has been more competition, and greater excitement for the fans. By leveling the playing field, even smaller market teams have a chance to compete against wealthier teams. Talent, coaching, and chemistry make the difference rather than money.

 In the electoral arena, however, we don’t have salary caps. Owing to  a string of policies and a handful of court decisions regarding free speech (e.g. Buckley, Citizens United), candidates must not only manage a massive fund-raising machine, but can spend as much as they like on their own races. Even corporations now can spend an unlimited amount through advocacy campaigns and party donations. Of course, money does not always mean electoral victory, but there is a strong correlation. So strong, in fact, that the true contest may be over who can raise the most money, rather than the election itself simply because if you can’t raise enough, you will not make it to election day.

 Just like sports prior to salary caps, competition among candidates favors those with resources or access to resources. Our representatives thus tend to be disproportionally wealthy, and to hang-out with other wealthy individuals or representatives from wealthy corporations. It is surprising that competition is deemed more important in major league sports than money, despite the fact that it is a business. Yet in elections, which (theoretically) is not a business, competition and a level playing field are considered less important than money. Perhaps democratizing sports is a step in the right direction.

 Stephen D. Morris, September 2010

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Mosque-like Establishments at (or near) Ground Zero

The proposed building of an Islamic Center close to ground zero has raised intense concerns. For those opposed, the endeavor seems disrespectful given that the terrorists of 9/11 were Muslims. In their minds, I suppose, they see the Islamic Center as supporting and promoting the same religion that, through the actions of the terrorists of 9/11, vilifies, attacks and seeks the destruction of the US, “our” way of life, and perhaps even “our” religious values.

Perhaps they indeed have a point… but why draw the line of demarcation at the denominational level? The terrorists were not just Muslim, they were religious fanatics, motivated by an uncompromising faith that asserts to know the truth based not on evidence or reasoning, but on sacred texts, stories, and metaphysics. Though their motivations and even frustrations were at heart political, it was religion that provided the terrorists their overriding sense of purpose, and a tool to distinguish right from wrong in a broader sense than the here-and-now. Their religion justified their actions in part by anointing and celebrating deeds designed to spread the faith; their religion minimized the importance of life; and their religion promised them all a reward in the afterlife.

Perhaps then out of respect for the victims of 9/11 there should be no religious institutions or establishments at or near ground zero. Allowing any religion – not just Muslims — to occupy what many in the country consider holy or sacred (but in a secular sense) ground would be disrespectful. This is particularly true for all the religions bent on proselytizing, on spreading the faith, on literally “taking over the world,” and imposing their views and laws on everyone. Indeed, religion was behind the terrorist attacks. Targeting just the Muslims but allowing other religious institutions to occupy the area seems almost to fan the religious flames, privileging one religion over another when, if we cast the net wide enough, all could be condemned.

Perhaps many will reject this idea as nonsense. Protestants and Catholics will surely point out that “they” did not blow up the twin towers. Indeed, why condemn all religions when the terrorists were of one particular religion?

Perhaps they indeed have a point… why condemn an entire class of people (the religious) for the actions of a few (the Muslims)? But where then should we draw the lines of demarcation? Who should be included and excluded? According to the same logic, why condemn an entire class of people (Muslims) by the actions of a few (the terrorists)? Just as we can differentiate among religions – despite their commonalities — surely we can differentiate between these two groups – despite their commonalities — and not consider them to be synonymous.  

 Stephen D. Morris, August 2010

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