Capitalism is like an unfair game of Monopoly, By Goldwin Emerson

Capitalism is like an unfair game of Monopoly

By Goldwin Emerson

gandjemerson@rogers.com

London Free Press, Dec. 14, 2013

One of the best things about capitalism and the free enterprise system is that it provides rewards for inventiveness, creativity, entrepreneurship, hard work, and productivity. Capitalism is based on the premise that those who invest their money and energy in projects that improve our economy deserve to profit from their efforts. Capitalists recognize there are risks that business ventures and investments may sometimes fail. When they succeed, often life is made better for other sectors of the economy.

Unfortunately, there is a down side to a completely free enterprise capitalist system. As a child, I remember playing a board game, called monopoly. In this game, each player starts with the same amount of “play money”. Players “invest” money when an opportunity is offered either to buy more property, or they may choose not to risk purchasing a particular property. Eventually, one player becomes successful in gaining control of most of the property while other players struggle to survive financially. In the end, only one remaining player controls all the property and all other players become bankrupt. At this point, the game of monopoly ends, and even the winner has no more to gain, and no one left with whom to play the game.

Of course, monopoly is just a board game, but it reflects the manner in which totally free enterprises work. Let’s suppose that a socialistic‐minded parent is watching his children play monopoly. The parent observes that most of the children playing become more unhappy and discouraged while those in the game who have hope of being the one final winner remain optimistic. The parent decides to put the game on pause while he redistributes the money equally as it was at the beginning of the game. The children who have made poor choices in

spending their play money are happy about this new turn of events. But those who made better choices will feel that equal redistribution has been unfair.

In real life, under the free enterprise system, those adults who make the best choices with their money may also think that intervening socialistic policies are unfair. This occurs when they are expected to redistribute their wealth to poorer people who have made poor choices.

On the other hand, in real life, the free enterprise competitive policies of capitalism can also seem unfair to those who end up poor and disadvantaged. For example, successful capitalists may profit most when they use up, or pollute, natural resources that belong to all Canadians. When capitalists pay the lowest wages to their workers they may make the greatest profits. So when one company, through competitiveness, is able to cause similar companies to go bankrupt, the “winner” will be free to charge exorbitant prices once they have eliminated their competition.

It is in these situations that democratic governments in capitalist systems ought to become involved for the benefit of all citizens. Good governments that take an interest in acting fairly or ethically will oversee the progress of the economy. A totally free enterprise system where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer is not a good ethical system. Through laws and tax policies, governments can intervene so that huge conglomerates will not easily put their competitors into bankruptcy. Good ethical governments can provide opportunities for the poorest among us to have good health care, good education and proper housing. Ethical governments help those who are jobless, to find jobs. When unemployment is high, over the long haul, this is bad for our economy. If jobs are not available, ethical governments should help jobless citizens retrain where jobs are needed.

I am not advocating an entirely socialistic system, but rather a balanced system between free enterprise and socialist safety nets. This is a tall task requiring politicians who will work fulltime continuously. It is a task that will not be achieved when politicians choose to hold parliament for only short periods of the year. It is a task that is not likely to be accomplished when, regardless of the political party, parliament is prorogued for months at a time. I understand that

being a good politician also means hard work outside parliament. Being an ethical politician is a full time task in a capitalistic system.

Free enterprise tough balancing act, By Goldwin Emerson

Free enterprise tough balancing act

By Goldwin Emerson

gandjemerson@rogers.com

London Free Press,

October 26, 2013

Some of the best things about capitalism and the free enterprise system is that it provides rewards for inventiveness, creativity, entrepreneurship, hard work, and productivity. Capitalism is based on the premise that those who invest their money and energy in projects that improve our economy deserve to profit from their efforts. Capitalists recognize there are risks that business ventures take, and investments may sometimes fail. When they succeed, often life is made better for other sectors of the economy.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to a completely free enterprise capitalist system. As a child, I remember playing a board game called Monopoly. In this game, each player starts with the same amount of “play money”. Players “invest” money when an opportunity is offered to buy more property, or they may choose not to risk purchasing a particular property. Eventually, one player becomes successful in gaining control of most of the property while other players struggle to survive financially. In the end, only one player controls all the property and all other players become bankrupt. At this point, the game of Monopoly ends, and even the winner has no more to gain, and no one left with whom to play the game.

Of course, Monopoly is just a board game, but it reflects the manner in which totally free enterprises work. Let’s suppose that a socialistic-minded parent is watching his children play Monopoly. The parent observes that most of the children playing become more unhappy and discouraged while those in the game who have hope of being the one final winner remain optimistic. The parent decides to put the game on pause while he redistributes the money equally as it was at the beginning of the game. The children who have made poor choices in spending their play money are happy about this new

turn of events. But those who made better choices will feel that equal redistribution has been unfair.

In real life, under the free enterprise system, those adults who make the best choices with their money may also think that intervening socialistic policies are unfair. This occurs when they are expected to redistribute their wealth to poorer people who have made poor choices.

On the other hand, in real life, the free enterprise competitive policies of capitalism can also seem unfair to those who end up poor and disadvantaged. For example, successful capitalists may profit most when they use up, or pollute, natural resources that belong to all Canadians. When capitalists pay the lowest wages to their workers they may make the greatest profits. So when one company, through competitiveness, is able to cause similar companies to go bankrupt, the “winner” will be free to charge exorbitant prices once they have eliminated their competition.

It is in these situations that democratic governments in capitalist systems ought to become involved for the benefit of all citizens. Good governments that take an interest in acting fairly or ethically will oversee the progress of the economy. A totally free enterprise system where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer is not a good ethical system. Through laws and tax policies, governments can intervene so that huge conglomerates will not easily put their competitor into bankruptcy. Good ethical governments can provide opportunities for the poorest among us to have good health care, good education, and proper housing. Ethical governments help those who are jobless to find jobs. When unemployment is high, over the long haul, this is bad for our economy. If jobs are not available, ethical governments should help jobless citizens retrain where jobs are needed.

I am not advocating an entirely socialistic system, but rather a balanced system between free enterprise and socialist safety nets. This is a tall task requiring politicians who will work full-time continuously. It is a task that will not be achieved when politicians

choose to hold parliament for only short periods of the year. It is a task that is not likely to be accomplished when, regardless of the political party, parliament is prorogued for months at a time. I understand that being a good politician also means hard work outside parliament. Being an ethical politician is a full time task in a capitalistic system.

Secularist seeks clarity on sharia law, By Goldwin Emerson

Secularist seeks clarity on sharia law

By Goldwin Emerson

gandjemerson@rogers.com

London Free Press, October 19, 2013

In the early days of the seventh century, laws and punishments were much harsher than they are today. Crucifixion, burning at the stake, flogging, dismemberment, and other forms of torture were accepted practice in many parts of the world. Sometimes, these punishments were ordered by kings’ courts, by slave owners, by religious courts, or by groups or individuals who had sufficient power over those upon whom they could exercise their control.

It was in this period of history that the prophet Mohammed was establishing the beginnings of the Muslim religion. In order to guide adherents in the correct path, sharia law was established and came into use in Muslim religion. For Muslims, correct morality is based upon the commandments of Allah. Today, Muslims still look to sharia law as the correct path to follow. Some Muslims adhere more closely to the harsher version, or the 9th century Hanbali interpretation, of the original codes. The Hanafi version of sharia law is more liberal and incorporates, or at least allows, more gentle interpretations consistent with morality practiced in modern developed countries.

In its harshest form, sharia law applies to many aspects of one’s personal life and can include punishments such as stoning to death for adultery, or for de‐conversion from Muslim faith. The death penalty also includes non‐traditional interpretations of the Qur’an. Other severe punishments consist of amputation of hands or feet, imprisonment or flogging. While these punishments seem horrible to many of us today, they were consistent with the punishments by both Muslims and non‐Muslims of the early 7th century.

In present times, it is generally the case that the strictest forms of sharia law apply in countries where Muslim populations are predominant. These include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia, although there are exceptions to this general rule. Strict dress codes for women frequently apply in Muslim countries, although often these dress codes are a matter of cultural expectations rather than requirements set out in sharia law.

Sharia law seems foreign to my own understanding of the manner in which many citizens in the Western world presently think about fair and just laws. As a secular thinker, sharia law codes seem harsh. Strict religious dogma seems to be out of touch with mercy, kindness, love and compassion that one hopes to find in modern religious thought.

While I hold a secular point of view, I have friends from many religions, including Muslims, with whom I have courteous and respectful conversations. I know from personal experience how frustrating it can be to have people from other religions criticizing my secular humanistic beliefs when I don’t feel they really understand how or what I think. I regret hearing from critics who believe that secular humanists cannot be moral or ethical. I know how it feels to be characterized as someone who, by virtue of my beliefs, is thought incapable of comprehending or caring about ethical concerns. So I offer a sincere invitation from those who understand sharia law to help me understand where I am mistaken in my concepts. I admit to having limited knowledge of how sharia law can fit into modern democratic thinking. As usual, I welcome your comments and corrections when they are offered in a respectful manner. I am not asking here for long quotations from the Qur’an. Rather, I look for explanations in simple everyday language. How can sharia law fit well with the patterns of everyday living in the Western world’s modernized democratic concepts. Much of Western values that are important to Western world thought are as follows:

‐ Freedom of speech.
‐ Equality for women and men in work and in matters of law.
‐ Free and fair democratic elections.
‐ Equality of education for both females and males.
‐ Freedom of choice in religion.
‐ Marriage and divorce laws protecting the interests of both women and men.
‐ Freedom of information required to vote in an informed manner.
‐ Fair and just treatment in courts of law regardless of one’s religious preferences.
These are the ideas I value in the Western world. Should I feel threatened by sharia law?

Faith, hope, charity, but not much of a tax credit, By Goldwin Emerson

Faith, hope, charity, but not much of a tax credit

By Goldwin Emerson

gandjemerson@rogers.com

London Free Press, Sept. 28, 2013

Most ethical systems place a high value on charitable behavior. In Christian thought, the word “charity” often relates to giving, caring, and love, for those in need of help. In biblical terms, some versions of the Christian bible state as follows: “And now abideth these three, faith, hope and charity, but the greatest of these is charity.”(I Corinthians 12‐13). It may seem unusual for a secular humanist to quote scripture, but in this case, humanists and many people of non‐Christian persuasions would agree, that when it comes to the importance of faith, hope and charity, that charity is the best measure of ethical behavior.

In Canada, there are many thousands of non‐governmental organizations (NGO’s) representing various needs and interests. Approximately 60,000 such organizations have charitable status granted by Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Typically, NGO leaders try to influence government policies in the direction of the interests and objectives of their particular organizations. Those organizations with official charity status have been judged by CRA to provide competent worthwhile services to Canadians.

Over the past fifty years, democratic systems of government have slowly shifted their emphases towards assisting corporate interests. Politicians have come to serve the interests of business and commerce, and often, politicians are chosen from among those who understand and affiliate with corporate interests. Charities serve different interests, but charities are also a welcome component which serves the aims of politicians during their pre‐election campaigns. When charities are given government approval, politicians benefit from the ethical spin‐off of work that charities perform.

Most charities do the best they can, given the limited financing they can raise from citizens’ donations. There are charities that provide relief to the poor, to

those without jobs, the hungry, and the homeless. Usually, there are many unfortunate others who do not receive government assistance even though they may have sought such help. When they can, charities offer assistance to this group of needy people who otherwise would not receive help.

Those of us old enough to remember the tax policies of years ago will know that they work differently from today. When a donor gave a gift of $100 to charity, the government allowed a deduction of the full value of $100 from their total income. In other words, donors paid no tax on their donation. Today, Revenue Canada Agency includes the $100 as part of the donor’s total income allowing approximately $15 exempted from one’s total tax bill (depending upon one’s income bracket).

Governments are delighted when charities take on the roles that members of parliament would otherwise be expected to do. Without charities, Canadians would not be able to survive hardships of lack of food, inadequate housing, or lack of assistance in getting through difficult financial times. When charities help with the needs of Canadians, citizens are happier about their lives. They are more satisfied with government as it now stands. So, politicians are willing to give some indirect minimal financial reward to contributors to charity by offering tax relief to those generous enough to donate to charities.

Let’s compare this tax relief with that offered to those who contribute to
political parties. These are the parties who sponsor most members of parliament, with the exception of a few independent members. Political parties are not charities, nor are they noted for their charitable intentions. They exist to provide cohesion, co‐operation, promotion, and direction of the political programs to which they subscribe.

Those who are members and supporters of political parties are treated much more generously when they donate to their favorite political party than when they donate to charities. Instead of approximately 15% for charities, political party tax concessions start at 75% or less, depending on the size of the contribution. ( It would be fair to point out that the percentage of the tax credit goes up the more

the donor gives to charity and goes down the more a donor gives to a political party, but still favours the donor of a political party).

Let me state that I am not recommending that donators to charity should lessen their donations so that the burden would go back to government organizations and to the legislature. I admire the work of charities that are properly run and ethically supervised. I would like to see more generous tax concessions offered to charity donors so that donors can receive the same type of tax support as that given by Canada Revenue Agency to political party donors.

Religious or secular, morals share many values, By Goldwin Emerson

Religious or secular, morals share many values

By Goldwin Emerson

gandjemerson@rogers.com

London Free Press, Sept.14, 2013

Where do our morals or ethics originate? What is the basis for statements about morality? How do we settle upon the moral values that arise in the course of everyday living? If we take a religious path, it will lead along routes different than if we choose a secular moral path. But if we are equally conscientious and caring in our pursuit of morality, both courses (religious and non‐religious) frequently lead to many of the same conclusions.

Religious thinkers usually start with the idea that God exists and is the designer of the universe. God gives humans intelligence and responsibility for making correct moral choices. God has created humans with free will and God cares about human choices and finds it pleasing when these choices coincide with His plans for humanity. Religious adherents may ask, “What is God’s plan for me?” Generally, religious followers seek advice on moral matters through prayer, contemplation, clerical advice, their religious scriptures, and support from fellow worshipers.

Religious approaches to morality work harmoniously when the various denominations agree upon God’s directions to moral questions. But often, when religious answers differ, a variety of religions and denominations divide and sub‐divide into differing religious groups. Each newly formed group offers new moral directions. For example, are same sex marriages morally acceptable to God? Are male and female clergy both equally acceptable to God? Are artificial birth control methods morally acceptable? The answers to these and many other moral questions vary among religious thinkers. If this were not the case, we would undoubtedly have fewer religions and fewer denominations. It is Ironic that many religious followers claim that, if it were not for the advice of the one true God, humans would become divided on moral issues. Yet, this seems to happen frequently within religions just as it does outside religious thought.

On the other hand, the non‐religious approach to morality is different. God is either very much in the background or not considered at all. The concept of morality is based on harmony within societies. Caring for others within each society is a valued moral precept. Trust and dependency on those perceived as part of one’s own group of fellow humans is important and necessary. Free will, honesty, sharing common goals, and assisting those in need are ethical values within the mores of a cohesive society. Caring about the preservation of a supportive natural environment is also an important moral imperative. But the non‐religious approach

also has its divisions and difficulties. Secular moral values change and shift from decade to decade according to scientific updates, recent political input, and emerging problems such as poverty, starvation, and other current issues. In this case, changes occur within the various secular social groupings. For example, the moral values of the rich and powerful may differ from those within the same group who are not so wealthy or powerful.

In order to work in harmony, secular morality requires members to be tolerant of those with different ethnic backgrounds, different abilities, and even different languages. More than that, it requires an acceptance of differences within and among social groups. In addition, it requires an answer as to how a society will know which moral values to accept and which ones to discard.

So non‐religious societies, if they are to have valuable moral principles, will have to develop codes and sanctions that will work for them. These principles will tend to be pragmatic, open to change from time to time and be measured by the question, “Do our current moral codes still function well for everyone within this society?”

It is likely that, in the end, these two divides, religious morality and secular morality, will share many common values such as honesty, caring, responsibility, and trustworthiness. Recently, Pope Francis made some interesting comments about secular morality. I hope that I paraphrase his view fairly. He has stated that people’s morality should be judged, not by their belief in God, or by their lack of belief, but by their actions. Perhaps the moral divide between caring religious people and caring secular people is not as great as it first appears.