We are Guardians. We protect humanity and our allies from enemies and our human faults. The cost of entry is high: We die, are reborn, and the cycle never stops. Some people say this makes us zombies. But I know it’s not true. Even though my Ghost and the light that resurrects me and gives me superpowers come from a machine, The Traveler, I have agency.

This is Destiny (Ok, it’s Destiny 2, but who’s counting), the first person-shooter MMO that makes cooperative play an art form. And dying and living again and again really isn’t all that bad. It keeps the game going for as long as you want it to. It’s not a bad business model for the game developer and publisher, Bungie, either.

The story telling in the game is inventive; the graphics and music are stunning. Like all good art, it creates situations that explore the depth and breadth of the human experience. The gameplay encourages teaming up and centers on quests, arenas of increasing difficulty, and lots of puzzles to discover and solve. (Why are there three fairy circles in front of the temple in the Divalian Mists of Dreaming City?)

Like the story telling, the cooperative gameplay explores the depth and breadth of real time social experience. Sometimes you play with a random group of strangers, sometimes with acquaintances and friends. Just like everywhere and everywhen, you meet all kinds of people: those who enjoy helping and those with a drive to compete, those who are easy-going and those who are demanding, those who are rude, and those who cheat.

The endgame content—raids—are a series of 6-person team activities with the most challenging puzzles and opponents. Deep Stone Crypt is one of those raids. It takes place in the secret laboratory of Clovis Bray, far beneath and above the surface of Europa. Bray has devised a way to pour human consciousness into mechanical exoskeletons, whether the human wish it or not. He thinks he is humanity’s savior; others view his actions as a crime against humanity. Deep Stone Crypt is as toxic an environment as you can find.

We were fighting Taniks, the final boss in Deep Stone Crypt, and using a well-known strategy that is difficult at the beginning and a snap at the end. The boss drops four nuclear cores. You grab one, run back to your designated area (where Taniks isn’t), and drop it into a receptacle. If the team pulls this off, killing the boss is simple. With a trace rifle named Divinity, shotguns, a bubble, Lunafaction boots, and an empowered well, you can sometimes finish the fight in one or two rounds.

The problem is grabbing those nuclear cores. After they drop, four people need to grab a core within seconds. It’s an everyone-for-themselves situation, even though we’re a team, because the clock is ticking. Everyone knows their role and gets the job done. Except when they don’t.

I learned the other night that a teammate can swoop in and grab a core right from under you. Surprised, I madly looked around for another core, didn’t spot one in time, and we all died. Someone asked, “What happened? Did someone not grab a core?” True to my  nature, I said, “That would be me.” Also true to my nature, I said, “Someone grabbed the core I was going after, and I couldn’t see another one.” The chill was palpable, even though we were hundreds and thousands of miles away from one another.

Later, I learned that this happens. You just look around for another core, and sometimes you don’t find one in time. No one casts blame, even though the cost of failure is high. It was 10:45 and our third try. We needed to finish by 11:00, the raid leader’s limit for the night. (I admire his discipline.) No raid leader, less than six people, no finishing the raid.

The next night, I learned that you can grab a core right out of someone’s virtual hands. Oops.

I also learned that playing with people from outside your clan, who don’t know the social rules, are drinking, and aren’t familiar with the raid mechanics, can be as painful as learning that casting blame is a faux pas. Maybe painful is too mild a word.

These outsiders were verbally rowdy. In a virtual situation, the game sets limits on a character’s actions, so you don’t get physical rowdiness. There are emotes, but none of them are rude—certainly not misogynistic—and they’re often funny.[1]

Saying these guys were rowdy is an understatement. Man, they were rude. (And one of them got drunker as the raid wore on.) These guys spent more time exploring new and inventive ways to fling crude references to female body parts around than they spent listening to the raid leader.

Not knowing the raid mechanics was more important for my clanmates (all men) than crudities and rudeness. Causing a team to wipe repeatedly makes the raid drag on—an hour becomes two, then three hours or more. Eventually, it’s two o’clock in the morning, everyone gives up, and you lose out on the rewards for your effort. My clanmates are pragmatic. Maybe they have a point. Who wants to spend three or four hours with a socially inappropriate, drunk fool who doesn’t know what they are doing?

Although you can choose not to play with crude misogynists again, it’s not in my nature to let it go. Calling out misogyny outweighs pragmatism. Giving it a pass feels like a hop, skip, and jump from enabling the Harvey Weinsteins of the world.

Once our one-off, out-clan, drunk teammate learned that a boss we were fighting is female—Fallen culture is egalitarian—it took him only a second to call the boss a cunt. I gave him a pass. After all, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and John Donne used close euphemisms of the word. (Regardless, the word cunt as used today reduces women to a body part, which is good for no one.)

But when he shouted “vagina,” he crossed a line. I said, “That’s enough.” Dead silence. I could have asked the guy if he was trying out for poster boy of the toxic gaming community. (I don’t think that fast on my feet.) I could have taken him to task for implying that a virtual character was anatomically correct for its gender. Anatomical correctness didn’t go so well for CD Projeckt Red when they introduced customizable penises in Cyberpunk 2077. Penises floating around a game environment gets old and icky pretty quickly.

Flinging around the names of female sexual body parts, especially when you don’t have them, irritates me. It’s like the scent of bananas so ripe they are rotting; meat so spoiled that even a cat turns its nose. A dog hair in your clothing prickling your skin. The gummy taste of vomit in your mouth the morning after you’ve drunk too much alcohol. (I must be channeling that drunk player.)

I don’t know why some men think shouting crude terms for female body parts creates a fun environment. No one shouts penis, prostate, or seminal vesicle. It just sounds stupid. Come to think of it, so does the other stuff.

But men come in different flavors. Although the other men in the team said nothing to support my rebuke—their reaction was what you see when someone farts in a crowded room—not one of them participated in the crudeness. I guess that’s something.

Is it enough? No. But you have to start somewhere. It might take repeated tries, regrouping to assemble a better team, learning how to execute the best tactics. Eventually, you will bring down the boss, whether it is a virtual, evil Fallen or a real misogynistic culture. You won’t get very far, though, by telling the boss it has to stop hitting you.

What to do, then?

separator

When I first started playing Destiny 2, I noticed other players crouching up and down at the beginning of a mission, after succeeding, after killing you in a player-versus-player match. “What’s up with that,” I thought, shrugged my virtual shoulders, and did the same. When in Rome, you know? Eventually, I learned it’s called teabagging and has to do with men’s dangly bits. I stopped. My female character doesn’t have that equipment. Shot guns, auto rifles, rocket launchers, yes; dangly bits, no.

If you teabag at my Guardian, she’ll just emote confusion and walk away. I can find other people to play with.

Setting those limits in the physical world is a better place to start than telling an entire culture it must change.

[1] The game development and gaming industries have a well-deserved reputation for being unfriendly environments for women, or worse. But game developers know that the more people who play the better, and women are about half the potential market. The more product sales and more opportunities for on-going microtransactions, the more money they make. And this means attempting to establish environments that are not toxic for women. We haven’t yet figured out how to eliminate misogynism from anywhere, so it’s going to happen in the gaming world. Game developers have learned that it pays to avoid helping it along.

Playing Destiny 2

A screenshot of evidence that I completed the Nightfall Ordeal: Insight Terminus 100K challenge on 3-14-2021. Yay me!

OK, I had the lowest individual score, but that’s because I assist a lot. I’m also not good at headshots.

Yes, Virginia, you still need to wear a mask.

The day after I learned that Massachusetts was offering free COVID-19 testing at a location near me, I called and made an appointment. I drove to the site at the Lawrence General Hospital parking lot the next day, and less than five minutes later, after some unpleasantness with my nose, was on my way home. Forty-eight hours later, I learned the test result was negative. I was relieved. I could stop worrying that I would accidentally kill my 96-year-old mother by giving her SARS-CoV-2.

The next time I went outside, I wore a mask, one of the cloth masks I bought back in March. I’ve been wearing a mask religiously ever since that negative test. Before the test, if I forgot the mask when I took out the dog, I would shrug and tell myself, “Next time.” Now, I go back and get it.

I’m SARS-CoV-2 negative, but I’m still anxious. It isn’t only that the position of the Trump administration scares me. The idea that there are more infections because we are doing more testing is ludicrous. It’s also innumerate. Testing tells you something about how many infections are likely to exist at a particular time. It’s a snapshot and an approximation. But testing does not cause the number of whatever is being tested. It tells you about reality; it doesn’t create reality. (By the way, often, about two weeks after an increase in infections, there is an increase in deaths. It’s hard to get more real than death.)

I’m still anxious because at the grocery store, people wear a mask, but don’t use it to cover their noses. One day, I watched a man pull his mask away from his face to sneeze and cough. He didn’t even bother to sneeze into his arm.

I read the COVID-19 news like it’s a magic ritual that will protect me from illness. Most of the time it just contributes to my anxiety. But every once in a while, I read something useful. The latest research shows that wearing a mask reduces the number of viral particles that get into your nose (“Masks May Reduce Viral Dose, Some Experts Say”).

I’m not wearing my mask to protest dangerously foolish or rude behavior. I’m wearing a mask because it decreases my exposure to virus particles as well as yours. I’m wearing a mask because a COVID-19 test is a snapshot in time. My status was negative on July 31, 2020. Who knows what it is now?

And, anyhow, I have to take care of my mom.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

George Floyd should be alive today. Perhaps he would be accused of allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill to make a purchase, but he would be alive.

He is dead because a police officer knelt on his neck, choking off his air supply. Evidence says Mr. Floyd was held in a prone position with an officer kneeling on his neck for eight minutes; he was unresponsive after five, according to the New York Times. Mr. Floyd would have become unconscious and a threat to no one after between seven seconds to one minute. There are many ways to immobilize a person, if necessary, without kneeling on their neck, holding them prone on the ground, or using a choke hold.

If Mr. Floyd knelt on a prone person’s neck until the person died, he would be arrested as soon as possible, charged with a crime, and jailed without bail. A prosecutor would not say to the public “we have to do this right.”

Mr. Floyd died because of police brutality and because he was African American.

It is critically important to understand that as a society, we were warned that police brutality was coming. Philip Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Study painted a very clear picture. You can read about it here: https://www.prisonexp.org.

Some people argue that the number of guns in the US created this problem. I assure you, it is not the guns. Mr. Floyd did not have a gun.

Mr. Floyd and many other African American citizens are dead because of our scripts and biases, our systemic injustices, and our lack of individual commitment to our shared human condition.

It is tragic, sad, and frightening to see police brutality occur disproportionately in the lives and communities of African American citizens. Is is appalling to see it happen in the middle of a deadly pandemic that is disproportionately killing African Americans.

Although we could all do something positive to support the protestors and African American communities across the country, I think the only adequate response must come from our public servants. How do we treat African Americans who are arrested for murder? Treat the police in this case the same way.

Note: This article was edited to correct a lack of clarity in the stated time the officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck. The original article stated the time was eight minutes, which required further explanation.

Where Has All the Money Gone? (with apologies to Joan Baez)

Why is no one talking about the $4 trillion in cash corporate America had on the books in January 2020? I read the Bloomberg Open and Close newsletters every day. Did I miss or not understand some bit of news in February, March, and April?

The financial state and fate of the U.S. postal service is a hot topic in political forums this week (April 27 through May 1, 2020). It joins on-going questions about the economy, the physical and financial health of the U.S. workforce, the public health responses to the Coronavirus pandemic, when a vaccine will arrive, and when life, work, and the economy will return to normal. A question not on the table, though, is corporate America’s $4 trillion in cash. Unless, of course, all that cash just disappeared.

We ask whether the federal government should provide financial support (aka a bailout) to keep the USPS operating past September 2020. It’s a good question, but we get caught up in the debate. Some people believe that the Constitution requires that the government fund the USPS to keep it operating. Others think the government’s money (that is, our taxes) are better spent otherwise and believe privatizing does not violate the Constitution.

The USPS debate; the arguments between Congressional Republicans and Democrats about the Coronavirus stimulus package; the arguments between governors and President Trump about when and how to relax stay-at-home guidance; the militaristic actions of protestors in Michigan; and the rapid deterioration of the economy over the past three months have roiled our minds for weeks.

Sometimes, the questions we ask are like the distractions a magician uses to perform a trick.

The questions provide a distraction from the discomfort of social isolation, the financial fear, and the fear of a disease we don’t yet understand.

I tried to find a way out of the anxiety going round and round, faster and faster—I have never liked amusement park rides down monster-filled dark tunnels. I read the Book of Job. I wrote a list of my top ten reasons to appreciate social distancing.

But, my anxiety turned to anger as I looked at photographs of mass burials in New York and read stories about meat production employees packed into workplaces that killed them and drove the pandemic into their families and communities.

My anger turned to rage at photographs and stories of farmers destroying food—potatoes, chickens, milk—because it was produced for restaurants that are now closed. Ten thousand people in Texas were in line to get food from a pantry, and we can’t figure out the logistics of redirecting food from restaurant use to groceries and food banks. We can give the agriculture industry $23.5 billion, but we can’t figure out how to buy excess food and distribute it to people who need it.

Once I reinstated a calmer mind, I began to ask other questions. A little Googling produced interesting information, as I pointed out at the beginning:

In a Harvard Business Review article from January 17, 2020, I read that “U.S. non-financial corporations are sitting on just over $4 trillion dollars in cash, according to the latest Flow of Funds estimates…”
https://hbr.org/2020/01/why-are-companies-sitting-on-so-much-cash.

According to an article in the Washington Post on March 26, 2020, the coronavirus stimulus package is $2 trillion.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/americas-2-trillion-coronavirus-stimulus-package-ignores-the-rest-of-the-world/2020/03/26/f1a8577c-6f9f-11ea-a3ec-70d7479d83f0_story.html.

I wonder what corporations are doing with that $4 trillion in cash.

 

I’ve been quiet here, but that’s because I’ve been writing at Countable. Check it out. It’s a version of democracy in action and less of an echo chamber than other discussion forums.

In my work as a ghostwriter, I meet a lot of wonderful people with interesting stories and lives. They inspire me, as does everything I read, hear, and see. Here, I share the thoughts and ideas that come… Read More

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Blue Thread Editing and Writing

Who I Am

I’m an accomplished author, ghostwriter, and developmental editor. My favorite of these is ghostwriting, and I explain why elsewhere. I develop college textbooks and general nonfiction. I write and edit educational materials, blog posts, and newspaper articles. I’m passionate about transforming chaotic concepts into clear, well-organized prose for targeted audiences while meeting the objectives of authors and publishers.

My strengths include developmental, substantive, content, line, and general editing.

Whether I’m involved with developmental editing or ghostwriting, I ensure that my work conveys the author’s intended meaning to readers.

Ghostwriting Examples:
I’m the Boss of Me: A Guide to Owning Your Career by Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson FT Press, 2017).

Tour Guide to Alternative Medicine, edited by Marilyn R. Freedman (TBD). [Originally Mosby’s Tour Guide to Alternative Medicine, Mosby Editorial Board (St. Louis, MO: Mosby-Yearbook, 1997 unpublished).]

I’ve successfully edited college textbooks in economics, statistics, psychology, technology, nutrition, and health.

Portfolio Highlights:
Nutrition from Science to You by Joan Salge Blake, Kathy D. Munoz, and Stella Volpe (Pearson Education, 2014)

Principles of economics by Paul Krugman and Robin Wells (Worth Publishers, 2006, 2009)

Principles of economics by Michael Parkin (Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1993, 1996)

Information Technology Project Management, 1st, 2nd, 8th editions, by Kathy Schwalbe (Course Technology, 2000, 2001, 2015)

Information Technology & the Networked Economy by Patrick McKeown (Course Technology, 2003)

My specialties include: nonfiction in the social sciences, statistics, management, technology, applied sciences, and health.

I believe that family, work, and play are what make life rich and help us grow. Growth is what my life has been about from early on. To grow, you need teachers and directed practice. My closest teachers are my twins, older son, dog, and cat.

I’ve been growing in my career for more than 30 years, first editing best-selling college textbooks and now writing and ghostwriting, along with development editing. My most recent continuing education course was news writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications in Manchester, NH.

I learn as much from my authors as I learn from my family, and I think they learn from me as well. But I’ll let my authors speak for themselves.

About That Photoshopped Image of Tech Entrepreneurs Visiting Brunello Cucinelli

Fifteen presumably savvy guys—they are Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, all successful—walk into an Italian village to visit Brunello Cucinelli, who designs expensive sweatpants.

The next thing we know, Cucinelli runs a reality-bending photo of the group on his Instagram feed that includes two women not in the original, and GQ publishes the same photo as part of an article. (Ryan Mac, “This Picture Featuring 15 Tech Men and 2 Women Looked Doctored. The Women Were Photoshopped In.” Buzzfeed, June 12, 2019, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ryanmac/tech-titans-women-fake-photoshop-cucinelli-gq)

The image is so obviously photoshopped that you have to wonder why Cucinelli’s company created and posted it. This is the obvious question. Cucinelli’s staff said they didn’t have a photo representing the entire group, so they created one.

Even so, two women among 15 men looks like tokenism.

I would expect a group of successful technology entrepreneurs to know that women are underrepresented in their industry. Do they care? Some of them do. Near the end of an interview with Quartz, published in October 2018, writer Leah Fessler prompted Reid Hoffman to reflect that, if given a redo of his college years, he would “make a proactive effort to be closer friends with more women at Stanford.” (Leah Fessler, “Reid Hoffman Explains Why Privileged Silicon Valley Men Must Stand Up Against Sexism,” Quartz, October 30, 2018, https://qz.com/work/1408421/reid-hoffman-wishes-he-could-go-back-to-stanford-and-befriend-more-women/)

Regrets are only useful when they propel you to take action in the present.

Hoffman is a strong proponent of women’s rights, but maybe he could go further.
Why not try a social way to change underrepresentation at events like Cucinelli’s?
Bruno: Hey Reid, I’m inviting a few friends and colleagues to Solomeo to talk about improving the world for everyone.
Reid: Hi Bruno. Hey, I love your cashmere sweaters. Who else is going? My friend Susan loves your sweatpants. Is she going to be there?
Bruno: No, I don’t think we invited her.
Reid: Well, what about my friend Ginni. She’s the one who turned me on to your blazers. Is she going?
Bruno: No, I don’t think she is on the guest list either.
Reid: Did you invite Sheryl? She has a lot of great ideas to offer. Life has been rough on her the past few years. An uplifting event in a beautiful Italian village might take her mind off things.
Bruno: Sheryl? You mean Sheryl Sandberg? No, we didn’t invite her.
Reid: Did you invite any women?
Bruno: Let me look at the guest list. There are two.
Reid: Two. How many guys are going?
Bruno: We wanted to keep the group small, under 20, so we could have some good discussions. You know, an intimate event.
Reid: Bruno, I think a summit on how to improve the world is a great idea. Call me back next year when you’re inviting more of my women friends.

If each of those 15 men asked whether more than a token number of women—or African Americans or Latinx people—were invited and declined the invitation if the answer was “no,” the world would be a different, perhaps better, place. (Look closely at a photo of the group in discussion and tell me if you see an African American or Latinx individual among the men.)

Is it crass to ask who is on the guest list? Not when the stakes are so high. Not when greater diversity is part of how to make the world a better place.

If we want to make the world a better place, we need to ask uncomfortable questions.
Would any of those 15 men think to ask? Probably not.

If we want gender inequality to stop, we—in this case, men—need to make it stop. And that means men need to make different choices all the time.

Banana Road

 

October 5, 2012

During the first presidential debate on October 3, 2012, the question of income inequality should have been front and center. It’s the nation’s biggest domestic issue (Income Inequality is America’s Biggest Challenge: United Nations Economist). And it links to just about every other issue that is on the table: health, education, economic growth, even democracy and the competition that is necessary to a free market (The American Dream Is a Myth: Joseph Stiglitz on the Price of Inequality). But even though the debate focused on the economy, neither candidate mentioned the issue.

Perhaps neither candidate wanted the debate to turn into another round of name calling about moochers and takers. Regardless, the issue remains: inequality has been increasing since 1970 and the gap between the top 20 percent and everyone else has been getting wider. Here’s a very good picture of the data from the West Coast Poverty Center at the University of Washington.

banana road Fig1

The top 20 percent have about 50 percent of income, while the other 80 percent of us share the rest. And the top 20 percent’s share has been steadily increasing since the late 1960s, while the share of the other four quintiles has been steady or decreasing slightly.

The story for wealth is similar. In 2007, the top 1 percent held about 43 percent of the nation’s financial wealth (richer-rich-and-poorer-poor).

To say that people outside the top 1 percent are pretty unhappy about this income and wealth inequality is an understatement. Most of us are working hard, but are not getting the same rewards that other hard-working people—those in the top 1 percent—get. In fact, our productivity at work has been increasing, but for people outside that top 1 percent, wages and income have stayed pretty much the same (“You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Gains available at http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph).

Discussion about income inequality veers off in several directions. The liberal side tends to talk about redistributing income so that we end up with an outcome that looks fairer. The conservative side says that people in the top 1 percent have earned their large share of income and wealth because they work harder, are more productive, and create jobs that produce economic growth. In fact, they say that some of the wealth the top 1 percent generates will eventually trickle down and improve the economic circumstances of the middle and lower economic groups. No evidence from the income distribution data supports this idea, which has been around since the Reagan administration in the 1980s. The evidence is clear: the wealthy are staying wealthy and becoming more so, the middle class is getting poorer, and the poor are staying poor (http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/10/richer-rich-and-poorer-poor/). A lot of finger-pointing and more name-calling goes on.

Both sides look at federal taxes to either support their position or construct a solution. But a look at federal taxes doesn’t help that much.

The highest income quintile has the largest share of income, but also pays the largest share of taxes. When you break that highest quartile into smaller groups, though, a different picture emerges.

Still, in 2009 the top 1 percent paid almost 39 percent of individual federal income taxes (that’s 39 percent of the taxes collected, not 39 percent of their income) and 47 percent of corporate income taxes—more than any other group. This is consistent with the income picture: greater share of income, greater share of taxes. But it isn’t consistent with actual tax rates. For example, the federal income tax rate in 2009 for married individuals filing jointly and earning more than $357,700 was 35 percent. So  people in the top 1 percent (about 1.1 million households) paid a little more than the top income tax rate, but no one else in the highest income share quintile came close (about 22.5 million households).

Our social insurance programs and tax programs really don’t appear to be redistributing wealth or income from those at the top to those at the bottom or in the middle—an argument that is often made.

Can we pin responsibility for unequal income distribution on one political party or the other? No such luck. Between 1969 and 2012, we’ve had eight different presidents, five of them Republican and three of them Democrat. We’ve had 22 different Congresses, with sometimes one or the other party seemingly in charge. But the Senate and House must work together, and no party has had enough votes in recent years to enact legislation on its own.

So, which political party is responsible for the increasingly unequal income distribution in the United States? Conservative or Democrat, Republican or liberal, the outcome seems to be the same. Not incidentally, the salary of most members of Congress is $174,000. The average before tax income of people in the 81st – 90th percentile of income shares was $131,700 in 2009; for people in the 91st – 95th percentile of income shares, it was $175,800.

I suspect that the income inequality we are observing is the end of a long process that is a bit like the card game war. The player holding most of the cards from 10 through the face cards is likely to win.

But life is not a card game. In a card game, the players either agree to play another game, or they find something else to do—eat, watch TV, go outside, or go their separate ways. And in life, the winner makes the rules. And the rules that are being made (or unmade) are resulting in an ever greater concentration of wealth and power among a small group of people. For an example, look no further than the financial crisis of 2007 and the resulting recession, the effects of which are still being felt by most people—well, with the exception of the top 1 percent of the income distribution. They are doing just fine.

Whatever the short term result, the long term result won’t be good for anyone. One of the factors that promotes a country’s general welfare is economic growth. When the economy is growing, everyone’s prospects are better. Economic growth relies on productivity, which depends on physical capital, human capital, and technology. Human capital and technology are both affected by the workforce’s quality of education. Without a well-educated workforce, it’s unlikely that we can keep research & development, innovation, and technology advancing at the pace we’ve been experiencing. Growth also relies on political stability and property rights. And it is affected by how well the financial system functions. We’ve already seen cracks in the edifice of our financial system. As income and wealth become increasingly concentrated and higher education becomes increasingly more expensive, the quality of our workforce’s human capital is bound to deteriorate; deteriorating health will also have a negative impact on the quality of our workforce. Even without social unrest, a loss in our capacity for economic growth is likely to follow.

Countries that have a pattern of unequal income distribution that is similar to the trend in the United States are Guatemala and Honduras, both commonly referred to as banana republics. A small group of very wealthy people are in charge in these countries, and the majority of their citizens are poor—an economic underclass or peasantry, if you will.

Banana Road Fig2

Banana Road Fig3

If we allow the political process to carry on as it has been, is our fate to become a banana republic? Maybe we’re already there, and we just don’t want to admit it. I’m not the only one who speculates in this direction. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff made this same comparison in 2010 the day after midterm elections.  And Christopher Hitchens, writing in Vanity Fair, made the observation in 2008 in the wake of the financial crisis.

So, what comes next? I don’t have a concrete answer to that question, only a metaphor. If you’re on Banana Road and you don’t like where it leads, find a new road. And if none of the other roads are appealing, build a new one.

Someone needs to ask Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney if he and his party can even acknowledge that the problem exists. And if they can, what they have to offer as a constructive plan for the future, without resorting to failed ideas like supply-side economics and trickle down or name-calling like socialism. President Obama also needs to be asked some hard questions about addressing income inequality. Does he have a constructive plan for the future that does not distort (or not too much) the incentives that drive activity in a market economy? And if the current distribution of power in Congress remains as it currently is, how does he plan to get things done with a group of people who don’t believe in compromise and refuse to be led?

 

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