Mountain Lakes, NJ
"Ethos," the August film in the Montclair Environmental free film series, culminates with a strong recommendation that we consider carefully how our consumer purchases affect many other issues. Marnie told us afterward that the site ethosthemovie.com is an excellent resource for making such decisions. I seized the opportunity to announce my talk on "Living a Happy Life While Spending Little Money" that I will give (again) at 1:45 PM at the Women's Club at Union Street on Friday, January 11, 2013. All welcome.
Earlier, the movie shows quotes from a variety of famous people including four politicians, all Republicans. It tells two extended stories that were news to me and seem important.
We see much of President Eisenhower's speech warning us against the "military-industrial complex." Senator John McCain follows this up, but neither Fred nor I could discern what he was saying; he seemed to be supporting Eisenhower's warning. Congressman Ron Paul complains that the interaction of government with large corporations has "significant consequences."
David Epstein of the University of Chicago relates the horrifying story of how corporations fed RBGH to cows to increase their milk production and corporate profits, causing much suffering for cows and illness among both cows and the humans who drank their milk. Jane Ekre, whose journalism career suffered terribly from her publicizing this, gets time on the screen.
Howard Zinn told us how the amendments passed after the Civil War to give the vote to newly-freed slaves were gradually used to deliver tremendous power to corporations under the ruse that they are "people."
We are told several times that the Federal Reserve is not under the control of the people; it is a private banking cartel. The narrator says that our founding fathers were worried about a central bank, and abstained from forming one with admonitions that were "heard" throughout the nineteenth century. In 1910 J. P. Morgan offered to help Woodrow Wilson get elected if he promised to establish a central bank. Wilson agreed and was elected in 1912. In 1913 legislation was passed establishing the Federal Reserve as a bank cartel.
President Wilson regretted this. We are presented a long quote on the screen, rapidly moving and unreadable to Fred and me with no oral accompaniment. In the 1920's the Federal Reserve made many loans that they called in October 1929, with famous results.
The Federal Reserve decides how much money will be in circulation, thereby establishing the value of the U.S. dollar. It lends money to the federal government, and taxpayers pay interest to it.
Another part of history that I learned from the film was that of Edward Bernays (1891-1995), an American nephew of Sigmund Freud, who believed the power of the unconscious made human freedom too dangerous. Bernays believed that the public had to be guided from above. He applied his uncle's theory about the power of the unconscious to start the field of Public Relations in the United States. It was based on Freud's psychological theory of manipulating the human subconscious. Advertising refocused from needs to desires. Public Relations "was used to sell everything from plastic gadgets to warfare. It has become a nightmare scenario."
We are then told that the Carlyle group, a private military contractor, made "an obscene profit" from the war in Iraq. Its profits went up 25% in one year. An aggressive public relations campaign caused a large proportion of the U.S. public to believe that Iraq had WMDs and had been involved in the 9/11 attacks, although there was and is no evidence for either. The public was encouraged not just to believe the war was justified, but "to take pleasure in it."
There were three crucial statements in the film that Fred and I disagree with. One was that consumer choice is the solution to all economic problems. Another was that if we think carefully about the use of resources, nobody need starve, even if the present population doubles in the next 35 years. The other, repeated often, was that capitalism and democracy are incompatible. We recently read Van Jones' new book, "Rebuilding the Dream," which articulates well our view that traditional capitalism based on Adam Smith's 18th century book, "The Wealth of Nations" is not only compatible with but probably necessary for a democracy. However, the huge unregulated corporations are very different. "Too big to fail," they cease to involve competition, which keeps smaller companies on a socially responsible track. Furthermore, as Smith articulated over two centuries ago, a strong government is needed to regulate true capitalism, so that basic rules are followed. I am not sure how much it is language, and how much I deeply disagree with the basic tenants of the film, but it left me seriously uneasy.
This does not imply that I disagreed when Noam Chomsky said, "The United States is not a democracy. It is a polyarchy." He explains this means that the real power resides in a few people who are not elected.
A former CEO of Goodyear, the largest corporation in the country (if I heard correctly), says, "Governments have become powerless compared to fifty years ago."