Since 1988 was an election year and I spent much of the fall manning the Democratic party headquarters in Gainesville, doing my part to try to get a Democrat back in the White House, I was surprised to find as much literary output as there is. I’ve already covered my reflections on 1988 here.
But the year started off on a positive note.
Getting settled in the new house took some time. Also, I suddenly had an acre of camellias to tend.
My presumption did not abate. I added “Scientific American” to my target list.
Land use was still a pressing issue. Unlike New Hampshire, where every bit of land is within the jurisdiction of a township or municipality, Florida has lots of un-incorporated land over which special interests can contend.
Obviously, I am not deterred by hopeless causes.
Speaking of hopeless causes. The questions that were asked in 1988 are still worth asking 25 years later.
I’m going to transcribe the essay to make it easier to read.
The question of how much longer this nation can afford the current level of spending on military hardware and personnel assumes that the supply of money is limited and that there is a danger it will run out.
The amount of money available for transactions used to be limited by the quantity of the metals extracted from the earth and transformed into the currency of the day. As John Kenneth Galbraith has pointed out, that is no longer the case and hasn’t been for some time. Going off the “gold standard” merely gave recognition to the fact that money is created by banks making loans to people who pledge to engage in some productive enterprise.
The problem with much military spending is that it is non-productive. In fact, most of the armaments we now produce are intended never to be used. They constitute a dead-end enterprise whose only continuing economic function consists of having to be guarded lest they be stolen and (ab)used.
The real question we need to ask is whether there is something all those people, who are now engaged in designing, making and storing military hardware, could and should be doing instead. Are there bridges and roads that need building, forests and fields that need planting, streams that need cleaning, and children that need educating?
If the answer is yes, then the next question is why people prefer to put their energies into making weapons rather than into all those other tasks. Perhaps the answer is simply that military production is more immediately satisfying and less ambiguous. After all, if something isn’t intended to be used, it doesn’t really matter if it doesn’t work. The sting of failure is considerably less. In fact, military hardware that doesn’t work is economically more productive. Defective hardware justifies the production of something new and exciting, even if it is just as likely not to work.
How this affects the non-defense sector of our economy is hard to tell. Does it serve as a model that explains why so much of what we produce doesn’t seem to work, or is it an on-going reminder of behavior that productive enterprise needs to avoid?
At any rate, to be shocked by over-charging and conniving in the defense industry is a bit like finding that a racist oration is too flamboyant and long. It demonstrates that our value judgements have become perverse.
If the value of our thoughts and ideas were measured as we measure productive enterprise, then the particular language and number of words we use to express ourselves would determine their worth. Money, the medium of exchange, has somehow become the measure of human enterprise. So, for example, maternal child-care is considered worthless and extruding plastic widgets is worth more.
Is it merely a matter of convenience that the medium of exchange has become the measure of value? Is it more comfortable to accept the economist’s dictum that human enterprise is governed by immutable laws and that there is no choice–no need to make value judgements in the economic realm?
We pretend that money is the root of all evil and shrug our shoulders at the injustice of it all. And, from time to time we decide that some people will be better if we restrict their money supply.
But if, as Galbraith tells us, money, or at least the best money, has no intrinsic value, then our concern about quantity is largely irrelevant. What is important is that so much human energy is being used non-productively.
What difference does it make how much money is spent on weapons that are essentially worthless anyway? What is SDI but conspicuous consumption invisible to the naked eye?
Of all the “important people” to whom I have written letters, in addition to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, McCullen, I’ve only heard back from two people, John Kenneth Galbraith and Richard Nixon, from retirement. A letter to Andrew Young when he was Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia was “returned to sender” after having been slit open and stapled shut again. Guess they didn’t want any negatives in the archives.
The letter to Michael Dukakis went unanswered. But then, the state of Florida was pretty much ignored by the Democrats in 1988. It’s possible that I was inspired by the reams of position papers sent to us by the Dukakis campaign on a daily basis. Presumably we were supposed to hand them out to prospective voters. I didn’t read them, so perhaps it’s only fair that my screed didn’t get read either.
Presumably, the concern over addresses was prompted by the fact that the voter lists and contact sheets we were supposed to use were full of errors and much of the literature we sent out from Democratic headquarters came back as undeliverable.
It was probably not prudent to be facetious so close to the fall election, but the commitment to democracy in the ‘stronghold’ of Alachua County was questionable.
Finally, a personal observation. Since the side of the clipping got cut off, I’ll transcribe from my original submission:
When I was brought to this country at the age of eight, just after World War II, I carried with me two bits of information. I knew that “America is the land of wild Indians” and that “Americans love children.”
I suppose the intent of those who provided that information was to give me a balanced point of view. America was, in their estimation, an uncivilized place, but since I was a child, I could expect Americans to be good to me. Whether that would be good for me was, however, questionable, as the tone of the speakers implied.
Of course, I soon discovered that, no matter how intently I surveyed the land from the train that took me from New York to California, I could find no evidence of “wild Indians.” It took me almost forty years to realize that the American love of children is almost impossible to verify.
Initially, the evidence seemed supportive. After all, in the fifties American families seemed intent on producing huge numbers of children and seemed inclined to indulge their every whim. Motherhood was exalted to assure proper care and fathers became more productive, not at home but on the assembly line.
Then, in the sixties, all those supposedly well-loved and cared-for children revolted. Mothers and fathers increasingly divorced, soothed their souls with tranquilizers and alcohol and started preaching about birth control, as if having children turned out to be a gross disappointment.
What was it they had expected? They knew that Social Security was in place to provide independence in their old age. Did they expect their children to be grateful that the “burden” of caring for aged parents had been lifted from their shoulders? The children had no part in shifting the burden and yet were characterized as the “me generation.” It was almost as if they were stuck with a label which was then used to justify their parents’ fear and apprehension.
Was that fear rooted in an awareness that their reluctance to invest in their off-spring, to earn both love and respect, would result in being considered a burden? Was it rooted in resentment at having supported their own parents as children and then having to support them in their old age as well?
Social Security is a system whereby the aged are supported by someone else’s children. It lessens the chance of retribution for not having provided adequately and invested in their own. It is a contract between generations that replaces the contract within families, but still a contract in which the younger generation is not asked whether it wants to participate.
So, there is still fear — perhaps more, because society as a whole has not done much better by the children than individual fathers and mothers in the aggregate. All the protestations to the contrary, the facts speak of themselves. More children than ever are aborted, unwanted, abused, abandoned, undernourished, illiterate and generally uncivilized. Growing up as “wild Indians” would provide a more meaningful and rewarding way of life.
No wonder our children don’t thrive. Parents, having freed themselves of the need to rely on their children in the future, have little incentive to invest in them now.
My generation is lucky. We grew up with a sense of obligation for the investment made in us. We grew up feeling wanted and bought into society’s goals. Besides, caring for the elderly on a community-wide basis has proved both more efficient and rewarding for all concerned.
But, what will happen in the future when the resented and resentful younger generation of today come of age? Having experienced so little of it, will they even know what social responsibility is? Will they honor a contract from which they derived so little benefit?
Perhaps because I couldn’t find those wild Indians, I’ve always been a little skeptical of the American love of children. In the sixties we heard that “love is all you need,” but that isn’t true. Our children need a little respect if they, unlike the wild Indians, are going to survive.