Toward a better society, with pluralism.

At risk of alienating people who might read this in a business context, I want to make a statement regarding the current social, political and economic dialog. This was prompted by the wonderful Sarah O’Neal’s recent writing, in favor of pluralism.

A clip from Wikipedia:

  • Cultural pluralism, when small groups within a larger society maintain their unique cultural identities (see Multiculturalism)
  • Economic pluralism, the diversity of economic methods including capitalism, cooperatives and laissez faire
  • Pluralism (industrial relations), recognition of a multiplicy of legitimate interests and stakeholders in the employment relationship
  • Pluralism (political philosophy), the acknowledgment of a diversity of political systems
  • Pluralism (political theory), holds that political power in society does not lie with the electorate but is distributed among a wide number of groups

This is a handy set of definitions of Pluralism (clipped from a larger set). By these definitions, absolutely! Pluralism rocks!

The battle is against Monism, on all these fronts.

In a pluralistic society, cultures keep the best of their elements, people are allowed to be non-conforming, the economy benefits from adaptive systems that fit with real requirements (i.e., a little socialized medicine is not socialism), businesses recognize that stockholders and executives, and their profits, should NOT be their sole motivation, adaptive political systems (economic and political are about the same thing, in this case) to social needs, and finally, tapping the power of, and interests of all groups, to motivate them politically towards a better economy and society. The groups cross-regulate: they pull in opposite directions, particularly when damage is being done. They pull together where they see common benefits. This brings more balance, but only through political dialog (which everyone professes to hate, lately.)

All of which must be future-focused and open-minded with a skeptical eye on outcomes.

An intriguing aspect of the US of A is that unity has not been an element of a healthy democracy, we’ve never had it, and we shouldn’t pursue it. When we have had increases in unity, evil things have occurred (Alien Exclusion Act, Jim Crow, post-9/11). When we’ve opposed it, everything improved. Allowing all to vote took most of our history to achieve. Low cost education available to all, took longer, and is starting to fade. Equal access for all to the law is always a battle, and we’re now on the verge of equal access for all to health care. Each of these achievements were fought, tooth and nail. Each one, once achieved, has created a better economy against dire predictions. I think this will continue with health care, if it can be made affordable.

What we should pursue, is individual civil liberty… let me be myself, and not be bound by cultural norms, as long as I don’t injure anyone… and the key to that, oddly, is to apply the rules equally, and consistently regardless of who is involved, where they came from, how they talk, eat or make a living. This allows people to be people, without a large social penalty for differences. Where differences flourish, so does the economy.

Another interesting aspect of rules (regulation), is that well-funded regulation actually increases the even application of rules across society. In business, regulation may seem onerous, but the regulations aren’t typically as onerous as having a given industry loose the trust of consumers, or society at large, due to cutting corners or outright fraud. By example, BT and Exxon hurt big oil more than the regulation ever did (but because we’re addicted to oil, it only seems to hurt reputation– revenue, not so much). Remember Savings & Loans in the ’80s? Only when regulation breaks down, does this kind of damage occur. Those industries that embrace licensing, standards, and inspections insure the bad actors are removed from the marketplace early, before such damage occurs. Examples of such industries include auto repair, home repair contractors, and medical professionals.

Our current economic mess came from deregulation. The banks went overboard, and fear of insolvency stopped them loaning money to each other (if they’d been well regulated, their solvency wouldn’t have been questioned). Without availability of interbank loans, the economy simply stopped. To start the flow again required the government to take the role of injecting money with no interest into the banking system (called bailouts, which isn’t entirely accurate). The slowness of banks to return to servicing business is still contributing to a slow recovery. Our economy runs on trust. Regulation and Inspection with Enforcement are tools to create a third-party certification that everything will go well in a business transaction, allowing each transaction decision to be simplified and sped up, allowing more transactions to be made, allowing the economy to run smoothly. Regulation is not sand in the wheels, it’s grease — an idea that contradicts virtually everything I hear in the public dialog.

Of course, none of us likes someone else telling us how to do business, even when the requirements are just and fair. And, sometimes regulation is unjust and unfair. These are the kinks in the system that everyone points to when justifying deregulation. This is understandable, but wrongheaded. The regulation comes from society, is implemented through government by society, and represents the current best guess about how to reduce fraud, injury and waste. It is us. There are 300 million of us, roughly, so its a muddle. But its our muddle. We are not unified, but through the given and take, push and pull, we come up with law and regulation and solutions of various qualities to what ails us.

In contradiction to the point of the last paragraph, we have the problem that some regulation is essentially purchased by companies seeking a competitive advantage by lobbying in Washington and the state capitals. So it does not come from society. We need to work on this. But on the whole, the point still stands: This is not government vs. the people. This is the people vs. the people.

That’s democracy. That’s pluralism. That’s reality. Let’s optimize it, not kill it.

Thank you for the opportunity to vent.

Leave a Reply