Economic Spirituality

Questions to Ponder:

Agree or Disagree?
1. The basic tool of civilization is the contract.
2. Contracts are voluntary and mutually beneficial.
3. Competition among the most capable leads to the most beneficial trades for everyone, strong and weak.
4. Only freedom—the freedom to achieve, the freedom to trade freely the results of achievement—creates the environment proper to the dignity and spirituality of man.
5. The only dignity, the only spirituality, rests on what a man achieve with his own efforts.
6. All coercion—all force to take from a man his own efforts to achieve—causes spiritual damage and weakens a society.
7. Beggars need to help as well as be helped.

What is coercion?
What kind of actions could be defined as coercive?
When is a choice not really a choice?
e.g.: If your only choice for earning money is to work in a fast-food restaurant for wages that still don’t pay for your basic necessities, can you truly say you’ve chosen that job?

Why do law-abiding and productive human being owe anything to those who neither produce very much nor abide by just laws?
How do you tell if laws are just?

Do we have to take care of handicapped, sick and lazy people with the products of our work?
What philosophical or economic or spiritual justification is there for owing them anything?

Does the world currently exist as an ‘ecology of trade’? Is it a just system?

How does a meritocracy work?
Is a meritocracy the fairest way to run a society?
What role does access to resources play in a meritocracy?

If you could design an economic system, how would it look?
How would people eat?
How would they heat/cool their homes, or cook their food?
How would they do satisfying work?
How would they provide for the other necessities of life?

Debate Question:
Could the imaginary system of Yagaiism work in the real world?

Article Excerpts:
Excerpts 1-5 are from a science fiction short story called “The Beggars of Spain” by Nancy Kress. In this story is a fictitious inventor called Kenzo Yagai, who invented a cheap and limitless source of energy called Y-energy. In the story he also invented a philosophy of economic spirituality, called Yagaiism. People in the story who follow his beliefs are called Yagaiists. These excerpts from the story explain the philosophy of Yagaiism.


Excerpt 1
: from Beaker’s Dozen, “The Beggars of Spain” by Nancy Kress
Kenzo Yagai was coming to the United states to lecture. The title of his talk, which he would give in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, with a repeat in Washington as a special address to Congress was “The Further Political Implications of Inexpensive Power. Leisha Camden, eleven year old, was going to have a private introduction after the Chicago talk, arranged by her father.
She had studied the theory of cold fusion at school, and her global studies teacher had traced the changes in the world resulting from Yagai’s patented, low-cost applications of what had, until him, been unworkable theory: the rising prosperity of the Third World; the death throes of the old communistic systems; the decline of the oil states; the renewed economic power of the United States. Her study group had written a news script, filmed with the school’s professional-quality equipment, abut how a 1985 American family lived with expensive energy costs and a belief in tax-supported help, while a 2019 family lived with cheap energy and a belief in the contact as the basis of civilization. Parts of her own research puzzled Leisha.
“Japan thinks Kenzo Yagai was a traitor to his own country,” she said to Daddy at supper.
“No,” Camden said, “some Japanese think that. Watch out for generalizations, Leisha. Yagai patented and licensed Y-energy in the United States because here there were at least the dying embers of individual enterprise. Because of his invention, our entire country has slowly swung back toward an individual meritocracy, and Japan has slowly been forced to follow.”
“Your father held that belief all along,” Susan said. “Eat your peas, Leisha.”
Leisha ate her peas. Susan and Daddy had only been married less than a year; it still felt a little strange to have her there. But nice. Daddy said Susan was a valuable addition to their household: intelligent, motivated, and cheerful. Like Leisha herself.
“Remember, Leisha,” Camden said, “a man’s worth to society and to himself doesn’t rest on what he thinks other people should do or be or feel, but on himself. On what he can actually do, and do well. People trade what they do well, and everyone benefits. The basic tool of civilization is the contract. Contracts are voluntary and mutually beneficial. As opposed to coercion, which is wrong.”
“The strong have no right to take anything from the weak by force,” Susan said. “Alice, eat your peas, too, honey.”
“Nor the weak to take anything by force from the strong,” Camden said. “That’s the basis of what you’ll hear Kenzo Yagai discuss tonight, Leisha.”
Alice said, “I don’t like peas.”
Camden said, “Your body does. They’re good for you.”
Alice smiled. “My body doesn’t have a contract with the peas.”
Camden said, a little impatiently, “Yes, it does. Your body benefits from them. Now eat.”
Alice’s smile vanished. Leisha looked down at her plate. Suddenly she saw a way out. “No, Daddy look—Alice’s body benefits, but the peas don’t! it’s not a mutually beneficial consideration, so there’s no contract! Alice is right!”
...
At the lecture, Leisha noticed that she really liked something about Yagai, something that took her a while to name. “Daddy," she whispered in the half-darkness of the auditorium, “he’s a joyful man!”
Daddy hugged her in the darkness of the lecture hall.
Yagai spoke about spirituality and economics. “A man’s spirituality, which is only his dignity as a man, rests on his own efforts. Dignity and worth are not automatically conferred by aristocratic birth, we have only to look at history to see that. Dignity and worth are not automatically conferred by inherited wealth. A great heir may be a thief, a wastrel, cruel, an exploiter, a person who leaves the world much poorer than he found it. Nor are dignity and worth automatically conferred by existence itself. A mass murderer exists, but is of negative worth to society and posses no dignity in his lust to kill.
“No, the only dignity, the only spirituality, rests on what a man achieve with his own efforts. To rob a man of the chance to achieve and to trade what he achieves with others, is to rob him of his spiritual dignity as a man. This is why communism has failed in our time. All coercion—all force to take from a man his own efforts to achieve—causes spiritual damage and weakens a society. Conscription, theft, fraud, violence, welfare, lack of legislative representation—all rob a man of his chance to chose, to achieve on his own, to trace the results of his achievement with others. Coercion is a cheat. It produces nothing new. Only freedom—the freedom to achieve, the freedom to trade freely the results of achievement—creates the environment proper to the dignity and spirituality of man.”

Excerpt 2: from Beaker’s Dozen, “The Beggars of Spain” by Nancy Kress
“If we achieve better than most other people, and if we trade with others when it’s mutually beneficial, making no distinction whether between the strong and weak—what obligation do we have to those so weak they don’t have anything to trade with us? We’re already going to give more than we get, do we have to do it when we get nothing at all? Do we have to take care of their deformed and handicapped and sick and lazy and shiftless with the products of our work?”
“Do the others have to?”
“Kenzo Yagai would say no.”
“He would say they would receive the benefits of contractual trade even if they aren’t direct parties to the contract. The whole world is better-fed and healthier because of Y-energy.”

Excerpt 3: from Beaker’s Dozen, “The Beggars of Spain” by Nancy Kress
“You believe that competition among the most capable leads to the most beneficial trades for everyone, strong and weak.”

Excerpt 4: from Beaker’s Dozen, “The Beggars of Spain” by Nancy Kress
“You’re a Yagaiist—what do you believe in?” Tony demanded.
Leisha took a breath. “I believe in voluntary trade that is mutually beneficial. That spiritual dignity comes from supporting one’s life through one’s own efforts. And from trading the results of those efforts in mutual cooperation through the society. The symbol of this is the contract. And we need each other for the fullest, most beneficial trade.”
“Fine. Now, what about the beggars in Spain?”
“The what?”
“You walk down a street in a poor country like Spain and you see a beggar. Do you give him a dollar?”
“Probably.”
“Why? He’s trading nothing with you. He has nothing to trade. “
“I know. Out of kindness. Compassion.”
“You see six beggars. Do you give them all a dollar?”
“Probably.”
“You would. You see a hundred beggars and you haven’t got Leisha Camden’s money. Do you give them each a dollar?”
“No.”
“Why not?”
Leisha reached for patience. “Too draining on my own resources. My life has first claim on the resources I earn.”
Tony grinned. “What if you walk down that street in Spain and a hundred beggars each want a dollar and you say no and they have nothing to trade you but they’re so rotten with anger about what you have that they knock you down and grab it and then beat you out of sheer envy and despair?”
Leisha didn’t answer.
“Are you going to say that’s not a human scenario, Leisha? That it never happens?”
“It happens,” Leisha said evenly, “But not all that often.”
“Bullshit. Read more history. Read more newspapers. But the point is: What do you owe the beggars then? What does a good Yagaiist who believes in mutually beneficial contracts do with people who have nothing to trade and can only take? What do we owe the grasping and nonproductive needy?”
“What I said originally. Kindness. Compassion.”
“Even if they don’t trade it back? Why?”
“Because…” She stopped.
“Why? Why do law-abiding and productive human being owe anything to those who neither produce very much nor abide by just laws? What philosophical or economic or spiritual justification is there for owing them anything? Be as honest as I know you are.”
The question gaped beneath her, but she didn’t try to evade it. “I don’t know. I just know we do.”

Excerpt 5: from Beaker’s Dozen, “The Beggars of Spain” by Nancy Kress
As she drove, she talked in her head to all of them. To Kenzo Yagai she said, Trade isn’t always linear. You missed that. If Stewart gives me something, and I give Stella something, and ten years from now Stella is a different person because of that and is able to give something to someone else as yet unknown—it’s an ecology. An ecology of trade, yes, each niche needed, even if they’re not contractually bound. Does a horse need a fish? Yes.
To Tony she said, Yes, there are beggars in Spain who trade nothing, give nothing, do nothing. But there are more than beggars in Spain. Withdraw from the beggars, you withdraw from the whole damn country. And you withdraw from the possibility of the ecology of help. Beggars need to help as well as be helped.

Excerpt 6:
Meritocracy is a system of government or other organization based on demonstrated ability (merit) and talent rather than by wealth, family connections (nepotism), class privilege, cronyism, popularity (as in democracy) or other historical determinants of social position and political power.

Excerpt 7:
[Meritocracy] is very widely used, even more so in the United States than in Britain. It is usually employed in the sense in which Mr. Blair seems from his speeches to have meant it — a social system which allows people to achieve success proportionate to their talents and abilities, as opposed to one in which social class or wealth is the controlling factor.
But this, as recent counterblasts have made clear, is not what the word was coined to mean. Michael Young invented it in 1958 in his book, The Rise of the Meritocracy. He pointed out in an article in the Guardian last month that he had intended a prophetic satire on what might happen if we placed gaining formal educational qualifications over all other considerations. This, he had argued, would lead to the permanent rejection of anybody who was unable to jump through the educational hoops, including many otherwise able working-class men and women. It would also result in the rise of a new exclusive social class as discriminatory as the older ones. So the word as he used it was not a positive one, but deeply negative in its implications for the future of society.

Excerpt 8:
In our book The Meritocracy Myth we challenge the validity of these commonly held assertions, by arguing that there is a gap between how people think the system works and how the system actually does work. We refer to this gap as “the meritocracy myth,” or the myth that the system distributes resources—especially wealth and income—according to the merit of individuals. We challenge this assertion in two ways. First, we suggest that while merit does indeed affect who ends up with what, the impact of merit on economic outcomes is vastly overestimated by the ideology of the American Dream. Second, we identify a variety of nonmerit factors that suppress, neutralize, or even negate the effects of merit and create barriers to individual mobility.

Excerpt 9:
Working hard is often seen in this context as part of the merit formula. Heads nod in acknowledgment whenever hard work is mentioned in conjunction with economic success. … In fact, those who work the most hours and expend the most effort (at least physically) are often the most poorly paid in society [yet], the really big money in America comes not from working at all but from owning, which requires no expenditure of effort, either physical or mental. In short, working hard is not in and of itself directly related to the amount of income and wealth that individuals have.

Excerpt 10:
According to the culture of poverty argument, people are poor because of deviant or pathological values that are then passed on from one generation to the next, creating a “vicious cycle of poverty.” According to this perspective, poor people are viewed as anti-work, anti-family, anti-school, and anti-success. … Instead of having “deviant” or “pathological” values, the evidence suggests that poor people adjust their ambitions and outlooks according to realistic assessments of their more limited life chances.

Excerpt 11:
Playing by the rules, however, probably works to suppress prospects for economic success since those who play by the rules are more restricted in their opportunities to attain wealth and income than those who choose to ignore the rules.

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