Getting a nation of shopkeepers in motion

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A nation of shopkeepers and shoppers, image courtesy of Florian and Wikimedia Commons

The claim about Britain being a nation of shopkeepers goes back at least to Adam Smith, though Napoleon may have referred to it to dismissively in regard to his enemy’s ability to fight him. Thomas Friedman employed a variety of this notion with his Golden Arches Theory of War, the concept that has been challenged since first formulated, but that holds generally true in that two nations that share common notions of middle-class prosperity are unlikely to engage in armed conflict with each other.

In the age of nuclear weapons, especially, avoiding war can be a desirable goal, so long as the costs of peace are not too high. Military action to stop the Rwandan genocide or the Balkans slaughters, for example, could have been better than what happened had we intervened at all or early enough to save civilian lives. But like Friedman’s theory itself, we can make the general statement that armed forces killing each other and non-combatants is something that should be eschewed whenever the morally necessary outcome can be achieved by other means.

There is the problem, though, that shopkeepers will equate the laudable wish to avoid killing with the comfortable refusal to address injustices. The bourgeoisie do not like war against other nations, and they do not like civil war or protests or marches or anything internally that disrupts the selling of toilet paper. Shopkeepers are reluctant to revolt for others, and they are often unwilling to stand up even for themselves.

As John Kennedy said to America’s diplomats to Latin America, “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” This is a message that our bourgeoisie should have listened to when mocking Colin Kaepernick’s protest. Kneeling did not afflict the comfortable enough to make necessary change in the law-enforcement system, and so we now have marches on the streets, some of which have turned violent. The extent to which this has happened is under debate, but that is not the point here. However much destruction of property and however many homicides have been committed to date is a point along an accelerating curve upward. We were not talking as a nation about police abuse until Kaepernick knelt, and we did not become serious about the subject until the streets were on fire on the news. If we are unwilling to take the side of the oppressed now, our choices are to see far more violence or far more oppression — its own form of violence — to come.

The solution may seem to be more affliction for the comfortable, but the comfortable tend to lash out incoherently when their privileges are threatened. And it is not enough to focus on goading in the absence of offering a solution. Trump’s limited genius is that of the fascist who stokes fears so as to provide an immediate answer, the dear leader. We who care about the nation have to learn the lesson here that generating a sense of guilt or terror is like cocking a pistol and leaving it unsupervised on a table. We must use the sense of impending doom to accomplish the progress that will prevent these threats in the future.

Trump’s supporters are sadly unreachable, as are committed activists for the Democratic Party. But our country’s shopkeepers would like working solutions. They want the peace that allows their businesses to make money. And so for them, we have to demonstrate that progressive policies are exactly what will allow them to do that:

The high cost of healthcare and lack of access in America means that workers are sicker due to inadequate care, under more stress in getting care, and more burdened paying for care than their counterparts in the rest of the developed world. Workers in our state of things are less efficient employees. And businesses that provide their staff insurance face the obscene expenses that are unique to our system. Medicare for All would cut costs and increase productivity.

The high cost of higher education in America mean that workers who seek advanced degrees so as to do the jobs that are not the sort that can be done by robots will face decades of paying back loans — if they are ever paid off — once again making workers who are psychologically of less value to employers. And given the price of college or graduate school, the pool of potential workers is artificially shrunk. The value of diversity is that it offers employers new approaches to making money, but the way we do higher education creates conformity as most people who get through the process share a common background. College for All means a lot more educated workers who are not struggling to pay their bills and can thus be pleased to work at a given company.

The high cost of our criminal justice system that treats more and more actions as illegal, particularly those that are associated in the popular mind with minority groups, means that we experience inflated rates of violence and other law-breaking with all the attendant costs that come along with these. The law-and-order crowd believes that we can have calm if only we put enough people in prison, failing to consider the fact that prisoners eventually return to society, the families of prisoners still have to function, and consumers will include people living in communities that are subjected to police occupation. Restructuring the police and the courts to a system that seeks restorative justice and rehabilitation, while decriminalizing behaviors that are not harming others would make a more peaceful nation of customers.

To succeed as a nation of shopkeepers, we have to create and maintain an environment in which shops can function. The fascism of the Republican Party, the anarchy of libertarianism, and the oligarchy of the Democrats does not achieve that. The only solution that will save us from lurching left and right into opposing authoritarianisms is the moderation of the progressive platform.

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