Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Schwartz Report

A few episodes back, Tangentially Speaking had an interview with Stephen Schwartz. I had not heard of him, but apparently he releases something called the "Schwartz Report." Later, I found out his actual job is investigating psychic phenomena(!). Nevertheless, this part of the discussion contains a level of common-sense that America seems to be incapable of:
Stephen Schwartz (guest): I do the trends. I don't make them. We all make them; we are all involved with creating the society that we are a part of; that's what my new book is about, The Eight Laws of Change. But, you know, I don't care about politics, I don't care about partisanship. I'm not interested in ideology or theology except from an anthropological point of view. What I care about is data, and what I really care about is wellness, and what produces wellness. That's what got me started with this. I began studying how do you create social change, and particularly how you create wellness.

Chris Ryan (host): How do you define wellness?

SS: I mean just what you think I mean! Health, prosperity, a sense that you are able to fulfill your potential, a sense that your family and children are safe and will prosper...what the Founders meant when they said happiness; what Benjamin Franklin meant by a virtuous citizen. That's what I'm interested in. I think the function of society should be to produce--should be, isn't--but I think the function of society is to produce wellness.

CPR: Do you think that's ever been the function of society?

SS: Oh yes, there are societies that are very much wellness oriented...for instance, Bernie Sanders in one of the first democratic debates made a comment about Norway. So I thought, "Well that's actually quite interesting, if you looked at those two societies..." I realize they're different sizes, that's not the point. It has to do with intention, the social intention, whether you're little or big.

So, I thought, "Well that's quite interesting, what are the differences between Norway and the United States?"

Now, as I said, I don't care about--I'm not interested in your theories, I don't care about your ideologies. What I want to know is, "If you do this, what's the outcome?' So my measurement is data: social metrics. I want to know, when you cut through all the crap, what's the outcome? And does it produce wellness?

So I made a list of about twenty social outcomes--maternal mortality, infant mortality, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, illiteracy, educational attainment, incarceration, gun deaths--obvious things. And I compared both the United States and Norway.

And the outcome is, well, from the point of view of the United States it's quite grim. It's notably inferior. Norway is a society that's made a social contract among themselves--its a citizen idea--that we're going to create wellness.

And so if you look at these things across time and across various societies...I mean, we pay more than any other country in the world for health care, and yet according to the World Health Organization, I think the last one was 37th in total outcomes...So we pay more than anybody else; I think it's about 17.2 percent of our gross domestic product. The best health care system in the world, the French, pays about thirty percent less, about 11.2 percent of their domestic product. So were paying more than anybody else, by orders of magnitude but were getting rotten outcomes.

Just to take what I mean by rotten outcomes, a child born in rural North Carolina  has less change of getting to his first birthday than a child born in Botswana. It's a country most people have never heard of; it's in the middle of South Africa; it was a protectorate at one point. A child in Texas is four times more likely to be physically abused to a point of hospitalization than a child in Vermont. Eleven times more than a child in Rome.
Denmark Tops The List Of The Happiest Countries In The World (Fastcoexist)

Nearly half of American children living near poverty line (EurekaAlert)
You know, Justice Louis Brandeis said back in the thirties the states are laboratories--that's what the founders intended--the states are laboratories, and you can see by the choices they make the outcomes that they get and therefore you can learn from them and decide whether you want to introduce this at the national level.

Well if you look at, for instance, not just between countries, Norway and the United States; if you look at the difference between the "Red value" states and "Blue value" states--forget about the political ideology, the political polemic. Everybody tells you they want make things better, blah, blah, blah whatever, and we love the children!..If you look at the states, as an example, you can see that "Red Value" states, consistently, have poorer social wellness than "Blue Value" states, and they cost more. And the big takeaway of all this is that, wellness is cheaper, it's more efficient, it's more effective, and it's more enduring. So "Red Value" social policies are more expensive, less efficient, less productive, and they last less."

CPR: And they cause huge amounts of unnecessary suffering.

SS: They are anti-wellness.

CPR: Let me push back on the number of points you made...People are going to say, Norway is a very small country...I think [scale] is an issue in the fact that social networks are less extended and people are more likely to have some sort of direct contact with one another.

I write a lot about hunter gather societies versus modern societies, and one of the things I always come back to is that scale changes things. Scale makes the relationships institutional rather than personal. And when the relationships become institutional, they become inhuman, because you don't never look in the eyes of the person whose pension you're cutting, or the kid who isn't getting lunch at school. It's not your kid, its not a kid of anyone you know or anyone you will meet in your entire life, so it makes those decisions different.

The other thing I would say is--Devil's advocate again--is that a place like Norway doesn't have anywhere near the amount of, you know, the melting pot and all the different cultures, which creates a kind of brutality in America. It doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter what your situation is, the rules are the rules! I've lived in Europe my whole adult life, so when I come back to the United States I'm struck by the rigidity of the legal system here...

SS: It is true that smaller societies, for a variety of reasons, are more personal. That's true. But the critique that is offered--that Norway is little and the United States is big--Norway actually has a population that's equal to about three states--doesn't hold up."

Just look at the United States. Look at the difference between Jerry Brown and Sam Brownback, Tea Party Republican governor of Kansas. Jerry Brown inherits a state that by many people's calculation is bankrupt, whose educational system is a disaster, whose unemployment is in crisis...

CPR: Natural disasters left and right, chronic drought...

SS: Right. Everything you can think of. California's going down the tubes...Sam Brownback, in contrast, comes in as governor to a state that is very conservative traditionally, but stable. People are prosperous. They seem to have a quite conservative, but essentially wellness-oriented future.
Now you look seven years later at these two states. Jerry Brown has a surplus, the educational system has been radically altered for the better; California, which is at this point now a majority minority state, nonetheless has much less racial animosity, has a much higher population than Kansas, should be much more impersonal, there should be much more racial tension, on and on. California is making preparations about climate change.

Kansas has gone through, what is it, three credit downgrades? Brownback has gutted the educational system; he's running deficits. There is a lot of animosity between the Christian fundamentalists. It's an overwhelmingly white state, nonetheless there's a lot of animosity between groups. It's a much less successful state seven years after Brownback came to office, rather than California which has gone in exactly the other direction. Or we could look at Bobby Jindal. Or we could compare Wisconsin to Minnesota where you've got Mark Dayton in Minnesota and Scott Walker in Wisconsin...
Let's stop the narrative there and look at some evidence of his points:

Battered by drop in oil prices and Jindal’s fiscal policies, Louisiana falls into budget crisis (Washington Post)

Kansas shows us what could happen if Republicans win in 2016 (Washington Post)

The Republican Party Must Answer for What It Did to Kansas and Louisiana (NYMag)

Alabama Republican wants to stop people on food stamps from owning cars — but expects them to get jobs (Raw Story)

Governor Blocks $2.85 Minimum Wage Increase After Giving Staffers $73,405 Raises (Think Progress)

Illinois cuts off funding for its public universities (Marketplace)

Business leaving Georgia amid freedom religious bill controversy (WECT)

This Billionaire Governor Taxed the Rich and Increased the Minimum Wage — Now, His State’s Economy Is One of the Best in the Country (Huffington Post)

Mr. Schwartz point cannot be overemphasized - forget ideology, just look at the outcomes! Raw data that can be quantified and measured. Republican/right-wing philosophy leads to worse societies, period. As this article points out, if we really look at the success of capitalism, the mixed economies consistently are the best performers as opposed to "pure" capitalist ones. As I like to say, I'm not a capitalist or a communist; I'm a pragmatist. Like Schwartz, I like what works. Show me the evidence.

Given this, why don't these societies and states change?

I don't know, but one fact I'm always struck with is the correlation between unsuccessful societies and religious belief. And it holds at every level. The most peaceful, productive and happiest societies in the world are the Nordic Countries and Western Europe, where religion is sort of a cultural relic. The poorest, most miserable, and most war-torn are typically in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East where superstition and fundamentalist religious belief are rife and imbued throughout the society. In America, the poorest and most backward states are in the so-called "Bible Belt" and the Southwest, where fundamentalist churches abound and politics is dominated by religious affiliation. And even within cities, you go the poorest neighborhoods, and you see churches in the boarded-up derelict storefronts filled with people preaching "salvation."

It seems religion is correlated with this "Red Value" philosophy: the "strict father, harsh punishment, rigid, patriarchal, in-group vs. out-group, rule by the rich" philosophy, rather than the wellness-oriented, utility-maximizing, cooperative philosophy.

And what's remarkable is the extent to which "Red Value" governing philosophies have become predominant across the whole United States since the late 1970's. This, in large part, explains much America's downward spiral into failed-state status. Instead of Jeffersonian Democracy, we find ourselves in a Banana Republic.

Maybe David Brin's theory that we've never stopped fighting the Civil War, and now we're in the next phase, is correct. The Confederate States exemplify the "Red Value" style of governance in Schwartz's estimation, and the Northern union states represent a "Blue Value" style of governing, a style which is now holding on by its fingernails in the U.S.
Today's neo-confederacy is smart enough not to secede.  This time, it is working from within to slash the things that it always hated. Especially science, which is the enemy of nostalgia. But also any chance of American pragmatism prevailing in the kind of experiment-by-politics that has always been our national genius.

A Modern Confederacy (TYWKIWDBI)

What we've seen is the Red Value style of governing taking over the entire country, partly because it has millions of dollars in oligarch money behind it. It's not for nothing that detractors have taken to calling Wisconsin under Scott Walker's governance "Wississippi." That style of governance - political patronage and cronyism, governmental corruption, union-busting, ultra-low taxes on unearned wealth, gutting the safety net and defunding the University System--once a source of bipartisan pride for the state, are all consistent with this style of governing.

Which party is best for the economy? It's not even close (DailyKos)

Back to the discussion:
Stephen Schwartz: So every one of these places where we look at this, you see that although the scale argument that's advanced--yes it holds true to a certain part, but no it does not hold true across many thresholds of measurement because it has to do not so much with size as with consciousness. So I would say to you that hunter gatherers operated well as a culture because they shared a common consciousness. They were linked together in way that's much more difficult for modern societies to attain.

"You can see as you look across states. California is like a country! If you look at a  state, Louisiana, Alabama Mississippi, if they were not part of the union, they would be second-world countries, maybe third-world countries in some cases. What is clear, is that when you choose to make social wellness the first priority..."

This is not anti-profit, that's not what I'm saying. You can make all the profit you want. In fact, what's going to happen is that those people who create wellness-oriented technologies are going to make billions of dollars, just as thirty, forty years ago, a group of post-teenagers transformed the world with IT and made billions of dollars. Why? Because they increased the potential for wellness.

Chris Ryan: Is there an innate tendency in capitalism toward increasing wellness?

SS: No! The argument that is always made by conservatives is, "Oh, then you must be anti-capitalist; you must be anti-profit." No, I'm not against profit! Profit is what makes people get up in the morning. I mean, not everybody, but a lot of people. What I'm saying is, you have to make wellness your first priority and figure out how within a wellness-productive [economy], you can make profit.

You look at a guy like Elon Musk. Elon Musk is a billionaire. And he's going to get much, much richer. Why? Because he's figured this out! And his technologies are all about producing wellness. Wellness in getting us out of the carbon age, by creating solar storage devices...electric cars, reusable rockets. It just goes on and on...He has figured out that there are billions of dollars to made in wellness.

CPR: And it excites people. There are billionaires whose names, at least speaking for myself, I don't know, who probably are making far more money than Elon Musk, but I don't give a damn. Because I see Elon Musk trying to move the world in a direction that I actually want it to go in...

SS: The problem that we have as a culture, American society, is that we lost what the founders were driving at. And instead we've become a society that has only one social priority and that's profit. That's the only social priority that counts.

CPR: And we don't see that these extremes of social inequality decrease wellness for everyone...

Stephen Schwartz: We have created a culture --we don't have a healthcare system, we have an illness profit system--and we have a culture that encourages unwellness. I mean, it's a social priority to create unwellness, because there are huge corporate structures who benefit from unwellness. They create unwellness.

SS: These are the big lies we tell ourselves; these are Orwellian lies. If you look at this marijuana issue, you will see its counterpart in all kinds of areas going on. Take agriculture...we have known for a number of years, anyone who bothered to really look at the research, that neonicitinoids  are destructive of bees. Whether that's the only thing that's destructive of bees is a red herring. "Oh, it's not that, it's the whatever..." We have allowed Monsanto to sell this stuff despite the fact that of the ninety major foodstuffs that human beings eat, seventy  of them depend on bee pollination. I mean we're literally putting at risk the world's entire food system, but we sell it anyway. Why? Because profit is the only social priority. If wellness was your priority, that stuff would never have been allowed to go into the market. And once it was in, like DDT, it should have been taken off years ago.

Ryan points out that the sexual abstinence programs are also associated with far worse outcomes. He points out that trickle down economics has not worked, and that even some of its own architects have denounced it.

CPR: We know these things don't work!

SS: Yes, but they're incredibly profitable. They make an enormous amount of money for a small group of people. That's what's created wealth inequity. A society which makes profit first will inevitably produce massive social inequality. A society which produces wellness first, people will still makes lots of money, but the negative, wellness-degrading social effects that we witness under a profits-first system, they just disappear.

Again, you look at the Red states and Blue states. Exactly as you say, Red value states which bloviate endlessly about family values...everything that you say; absolutely correct. There's more teen pregnancy, there's more sexually transmitted diseases, there's more divorce, there's more abortion in red value states. The policies which arise from a worldview which says we're each isolated and separate, and everybody's out for himself, and devil take the hindmost, and those who are the most socioipathic can rise to the top, those states in the long run when you see them over a period of time are doing worse and worse and worse.

CPR: And that's obvious.

SS: Anyone who looks at data will find that to be true. This is not my political position. This isn't my polemics about it. Look at the data! That's what I tell people. Quit arguing about is it Democratic or Republican, that's another one of these big lie things. The question is, is what's being done protective of wellness, or is it degrading of wellness?

Stephen Schwartz: I have enormous urgency and alarm about what's happening. Because when I look at what's going on, what I see is the collapse of American society. And when you add climate change to that, you have a formula for the complete breakdown of culture...

Stephen Schwartz: ...But the truth is, there is no force on earth as powerful as the collective intention of a multitude. It'll chance anything. Has changed anything. And what I'm concerned with is that we are experiencing a kind of great schism now where were really splitting into two countries. and dialogue across those two countries is getting increasingly difficult and will get extremely difficult because the trends that are going on are freaking people out."

For the first time in five-hundred years being born white is not going to confer privilege. We started to talk earlier about opiates. What's interesting is opiate use among Hispanics and Blacks is going down. Opiate use among whites is going up. Why is that? And the reason is I think that Black and Hispanic kids never expected to get the benefit. They never expected to get privilege. So everything they get they earned, because there's nothing awarded just because you're around. White kids are now also experiencing that for the first time and its making them crazy.

By the same token, a certain segment of their elders have become so fearful that they're willing to tolerate ninety-two people a day dying by gunfire. Thirty-three thousand people a year dying by gunfire. Dying by gunfire is now a significant cause of death in the United States. Incomprehensible! You live in Europe, so I know that you know that it's incomprehensible. And of course, this isn't at all what the Founders had in mind; this is not what the Second Amendment is about; that is not what they were trying to do. But we are willing to tolerate it because our fear is so great that we feel  "Oh my God, I've got to go out and get a gun an protect myself!" Now the reality is that the person most likely to be injured by your gun is a friend or a family member. But we tolerate it because of this fear issue.

You look at the climate change trend. We are the only country in the developed world that has a major party that things the whole thing is a hoax and won't do anything about it. You talk to Europeans...I've made three trips to Europe so far this year, and they come up to me at dinners, or talking, or if I give a paper, a talk at a conference, you know..."Why are you so violent?" If you're looking outside its incomprehensible. I've had people say to me, "You know I've always wanted to come to the United States, but my wife just thinks it's too dangerous."

Chris Ryan: It's a tragedy, my wife was raised in Africa. We've been here in the States for a few months and breaks her heart. Because she said, "When I was a little girl, America was the place where you knew how to do everything right. All the best music, the moonshots; everything beautiful and wonderful and hopeful was happening in America. And now I come here and everybody is overweight and sick, and the food is horrible, and the bridges are falling down. What happened?

Stephen Schwartz: At the end of World War Two, having seen all the death, we oriented ourselves toward wellness. And we created the most successful middle class in history. With Ronald Reagan, we sold our soul to profit. And as a result of that we are unhappy, we are miserable, we are unhealthy, our children are [among] the least healthy, least advanced, least educated in the world; we have seventeen million children that have hunger issues in the United States.

I mean your wife is absolutely correct. The first time I went to...I worked for National Geographic when I came out of university. And I was sent to Jordan; this was the very early Sixties. and it was the first time I ever traveled for business. I was unbelievably naive. And I went up to this restaurant on the Corniche. It was on the second floor. I ate this really wonderful meal by myself. And I reached in, and I realized I had changed pants, and I had left my wallet in my other pants. And all I had with me was my press card. And I asked the waiter if he could bring the manager over, and he did.

You know. Here I am, I'm twenty-one years old, and I said to this guy, "I've made a terrible mistake; I'm so sorry; I don't have any money. I changed pants; I left my wallet in the other...but I have my press card for National Geographic. And I'll leave it with you and and I will come back and pay you. I'll just walk around the corner to the hotel, and I'll get my wallet and I'll come right back, is that okay?" This was before credit cards.

He said to me, "Don't worry. It's my pleasure to give you this meal. During the last war, during the Second World War, your country saved my family from being killed. It's my honor to give an American a free meal."

My most recent trip, to Sweden, I'm sitting at the table with a Norwegian engineer, I had spoke at a conference, and this guy's sophomore daughter who was at university, and we were having lunch. And she said to me, "How many people get killed in your country every day in your country by guns?" I said 92. She said, "How many do the police kill?" I said, so far this year, 958. "How many get killed in a year?"  Thirty-three thousand. She said to me, "Why are you so violent? We have guns. There's lots of guns in Norway. Why are you so violent? How can you live in a society where 92 people a day are cut down by gunfire? What happened to America?" I didn't have an answer for that. It embarrassed me, and made me very uncomfortable.

I understand what your wife is saying because you hear it all over the world. I've been three times to Europe this year..France Norway, Sweden, Mexico. Inevitably, I talk about the eight laws, people come up to me and say, "What happened to America? You were the most admired country in the world, blah, blah," just like your wife. All the good music, all the hip stuff, all the breakthroughs, all the things that we all wanted; you could get them in America. What happened? And the answer is, we made profit the first priority.
Traditional Economics Failed. Here’s a New Blueprint. (Evonomics)

The Right Thing to Do (Ian Welsh) On a similar theme:
What makes me saddest of all things in the world is this: In the vast majority of situations, the right thing to do morally is the right thing to do in terms of broad self-interest, and yet we don’t believe that and we do the wrong thing, thinking we must, or thinking that we’re making the “hard decisions.”

This spans the spectrum of issues. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about foreign affairs, where the money used on Iraq and Afghanistan could have rebuilt America and made it more prosperous. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about health care, where everyone knew that the right thing to do was single payer or some other form of comprehensive healthcare, which would have reduced bankruptcies massively, saved 6 percent of GDP and massive numbers of lives. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the financial crisis, where criminally prosecuting those who engaged in fraud (the entire executive class of virtually every major financial firm) and nationalizing the major banks, wiping out the shareholders and making the bondholders eat their losses was the right thing to do, and didn’t happen. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about drug policy, where the “war on drugs” has accomplished nothing except destabilizing multiple countries and giving the US the largest prison population proportional to population in the entire world and where legalizing marijuana, soft opiates, and coca leaves would save billions of dollars, reduce violence, help stabilize Mexico, and would help tax receipts. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about food, where we subsidize the most unhealthy foods possible and engage in practices which have reduced the nutritional content of food by 40 percent in the last half century. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about environmental pollutants, which have contributed to a massive rise in chronic diseases so great it amounts to an epidemic.

And on, and on, and on...


  1. Very interesting...thanks for sharing.

  2. A fellow named Schartz who studies psychic phenomena? May I be to first wish that may the Schwartz be with him. Sorry, couldn't resist.

    On a more serious note, I think a conversation between Mr. Schwartz and Archdruid Greer would be a productive one, especially on the intersection between the metaphysical and our current material state. So would a conversation between Schwartz and Kunstler. All three address the spiritual discomfort Americans feel in different ways.


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