I thought I would do a kind of 2L:DR (Too long; didn't read) thing and post a few things that really struck me, so you could read something shorter if you didn't want to take the time to listen to the podcast (about 10 minutes short of an hour). It'd be like 2L;DL (Too long; didn't listen). But there were so many I'm afraid my 2L;DL is 2L;DR.
Anyway, here are some points of discussion that I am still pondering.
You can tell the rich and powerful in our age to do more good, but you can never tell them to do less harm. You can tell them to give more, but you can’t tell them to take less. You can tell them to share the spoils of extreme capitalism, but you can’t tell them to renovate capitalism.
It’s language like the “win-win,” which sounds great, but in some deep way is actually about rich people saying, the only acceptable forms of social change are the forms of social change that also kick something back upstairs — language like “doing well by doing good,” which, again, is like, “The only conditions under which I’m willing to do good is under which I would also do well.”
Part of what I found was that a lot of wealthy folks are incredibly decent and upholding an incredibly indecent system.
I meet people in Silicon Valley who, I think, truly believe and wake up every day trying to make the world better and truly think that they are doing so and that they’re sitting on tools and capabilities that could allow them to liberate humanity faster than anybody on earth. But because they are so confident in that, there’s an assumption that the tools they’re building will always make things better. The more people are connected, the more people are online, the more people are on Facebook, the more, the more, the more — it will always be better.
There’s a failure to understand that the same tools that will empower people to be online can very easily be used by the Chinese government to prevent people from speaking their mind in a way that actually makes it harder, rather than easier, to do so. That happens all the time in history.
I think if you were to go back a little bit in time and think about business people in 1950 or whenever, they would always have — in addition to their businessman hat, they’d have a second hat. That hat may just be “strong community member” and “T-ball coach” and “volunteer for the Rotary Club” and whatever. But that second hat was often a spiritual hat. They were in the church. They went to see other people in that church every week. They had a parallel set of values that were in some ways reinforcing of or in tension with the first hat.
I think what’s happened in the business world is, a lot of the people with wealth and power and real decision-making authority over how our society goes don’t have a second hat anymore. They don’t have some other set of values that competes with their business values.
I was just in Ohio. The public schools in the city of Akron get $10,000 a year, that’s the per-pupil spending in Akron. There’s another district in Ohio where the per-pupil spending is $31,000 a year. Maybe one of your listeners can explain that to a six-year-old child; I know I would be unable to. I’d find it very hard to explain to a child why they have to get one-third as much educational resource as someone else because mommy and daddy’s house is less expensive. Those are the kinds of things that we all sort of tolerate.
Another way to think about inequality is the line you draw between your love for your own children and your love for everybody else’s children. At one level, it seems obvious that you love your own children. But actually, if you think about what makes this society as decent as it is and the achievements that we’ve built to get here, we actually don’t value our children to the infinity point. We all love our children. But we all, generally, embrace a bunch of rules that set a cap on just doing best by our children and also makes sure we do right by other people’s children. That means paying your taxes. You pay your taxes because we understand you can’t just give it all to your children. We’ve got to take care of everybody’s. We nourish common institutions and systems and welfare and various programs that we may not use and our children may not use but that we think should be part of a system and available to someone else’s children.
I think one way to think about where we are in America now is that our love for our own children is far outstripping our concern for other people’s children. And whether it’s my own child or you and yours, no one’s ever going to take that away from you. But I think the question of a healthy society is, where do you draw that line so that there is place in your heart not only for your own children but for everybody’s?
Part of the drum that I’ve been beating, as much as, personally, I would love to see Donald Trump gone, is, I think Trump needs to be the end of something bigger, which is an end of the veneration of money, an end of the faith in billionaire saviors, an end of the trusting that the people who cause problems are the best at fixing them, and actually could be the spark of a moment and an age where we actually solve problems together again, through deep reform at the root, for everybody.