Paul Nevins

Paul Nevins
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
October 29
Paul Nevins is the author of "The Politics of Selfishness: How John Locke’s Legacy Is Paralyzing America "(Greenwood /Praeger/ABC-CLIO). The central thesis of this important and unconventional work is that the United States has begun to experience a number of profound, interrelated problems that are caused, both directly and indirectly, by the country's dogmatic and often unconscious adherence, collectively as a political culture and individually as Americans, to the political philosophy of John Locke. That ideology, which is the bedrock upon which the American liberal democracy has been founded, asserts that human beings are by nature solitary, aggrandizing individuals. Hence, preoccupation with the self in all of its manifestations and attributes - as opposed to the whole, the public interest - has become the primary focus by which political, economic and societal decisions are made. Consequently, the preferred form of social and political relationships with others, including the state as the organized expression of political society, is solely contractual and is designed primarily to protect private property in all of its forms. "The Politics of Selfishness" provides compelling historic and contemporary evidence that U.S. institutions, at all levels, are failing because of the country's uncritical embrace of the anti-social individualism which is John Locke’s legacy. Paul Nevins has been a trial attorney in private practice since 1982. He concentrates in public and private sector employment law and litigation, related civil rights and constitutional law claims, and contract claims. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Paul Nevins taught in the Boston Public Schools. While teaching, Mr. Nevins served as a member of the Executive Board of the Boston Teachers Union, Local 66, AFT/AFL-CIO. Paul Nevins served as a conscript in the United States Army from 1968 to 1970. In 1969, he was a founder and the first chairman of GIs for Peace at Fort Bliss, Texas.This was the first organization of active duty soldiers who publicly opposed the Vietnam War. Mr. Nevins received an A.B. Degree from Suffolk University, a Master of Arts Degree from New York University, and a Juris Doctor Degree from Suffolk University Law School. He lives and works in Boston.


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MAY 6, 2013 12:28PM

Suicides Climb While Friedman Recycles Social Darwinism

Rate: 20 Flag

                            cross-posted at

        In a recent news story in The New York Times, (“Suicide Rates in Middle Age Soared in U.S.,” May 3, 2013), Tara Parker-Hope reported that suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade an that this trend has prompted a concern that a  baby boomers, because they have faced years of economic worry and have easy access to prescription painkillers, may be particularly at risk. The journalist cited a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contained in the May 2, 2012 issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which found that more people now die by suicides than are killed in car accidents. The Center’s findings showed that 2010 there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides.


  The Centers’ findings documented that from 1999 to 2010, while the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent, the most significant increase were seen among men in their 50s. The suicide rates for men increased by nearly 50 percent, to about 30 per 100,000 per 100,000 population. Among women, the largest increase was seen in those aged 60 to 64. Their suicide rates increased by nearly 60 percent to 7.0 per 100,000 .

    Ms. Parker-Hope notes that, although the categorization of reported causes of death by local authorities is far from uniform, “ C.D.C. and academic researchers said they were confident that the data documented an actual increase in deaths by suicide and not a statistical anomaly.”  She quoted Julie Phillips, an associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University who has published research on suicide rates to the effect, “It’s vastly under-reported. We know we’re not counting all suicides.” Professor Philips further noted , “The boomers had great expectations for what their life might look like, but I think perhaps it hasn’t panned out that way. All these conditions the boomers are facing, future cohorts are going to be facing many of these conditions as well.”

    Ms. Parker-Hope also interviewed the C.D.C.’s deputy director, Ileana Arias, who observed. “It is the baby boomer group where we see the highest rates of suicide. There may be something about that group, and how they think about life issues and their life choices that may make a difference” and “The increase does coincide with a decrease in financial standing for a lot of families over the same time period.

    The C.D.C.’s findings and Ms. Parker- Hope’s article describe a trend that is extremely worrisome, but not surprising. The empirical evidence, as her article notes, shows a correlation between the economic travail of men and women in that age group and their resulting despair. Anecdotally, as a plaintiff’s employment lawyer for more than thirty years, since the onset of this continuing Great Recession, I have received an increasing number of desperate calls from middle-aged men and woman who have been discharged by their employers and who, despite impressive resumes, often extraordinary educational credentials and lots of experience, have descended into the ranks of the permanently unemployable and the underclass.

     Ironically, a day before the C.D.C.’s report was released, Thomas Friedman, in an op ed column in The Times  (“It’s a 401(k) World,” May 1, 2013), chronicled his schizophrenia about this brave new world that he claims will benefit the self-motivated but burden those with less aggressive (and perhaps more reflective?) personalities. Friedman waxed positively ecstatic about the prospects for young, well-educated adults in this global, hyper-connected world, “If you ‘re self-motivated, wow, this world is tailored for you.” 

     As to how precisely will this new economy will address the needs of those men and women between age 40 and 65who are now among the long- term unemployed, however,  Friedman clearly hasn’t got a clue: “Government will do less for you. Companies will do less for you. Unions can do less for you. There will be fewer limits, but also fewer guarantees. Your specific contribution will define your specific benefits much more. Just showing up will not cut it.”      

    Friedman’s ringing endorsement of the myth of Horatio Alger is more disturbing because it was published on a day that elsewhere in the world celebrated the importance of unions and the rights of workers. Millions of workers took to the streets to demand better working conditions and wages, and an economic system that promoted the interests of everyone, not just the wealthy elite. The May Day demonstrations in Spain, Italy and Greece were particularly vocal, prompted by the widespread and growing misery that the austerity measures imposed by the E.U., the I.M.F. and their cabal of German bankers have inflicted upon those countries.  

    By way of contrast, Pope Francis in Rome on May Day denounced the  recycled Social Darwinism that Friedman blithely accepts as inevitable “...I think of the difficulties that, in various countries, today afflict the world of work and businesses. I think of how many, and not just young people, are unemployed, many times due to a purely economic conception of society, which seeks selfish profit, beyond the parameters of social justice. I wish to extend an invitation to solidarity to everyone, and I would like to encourage those in public office to make every effort to give new impetus to employment.”

    In the United States, the 401(k) world that Friedmm ruminates about was ushered in with the enactment of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ( ERISA) during Ronald Reagan’s administration. Traditional defined benefit plans - pensions - were gutted as employees were increasingly required to investment their future retirements in Wall Street ponzi schemes to their detriment.

    Today, the United States continues to have the most restrictive labor laws in Western world, the effect of which is to make it infinitely more difficult for employees to organize, to join unions and to bargain collectively for better wages, benefits and working conditions. In addition, 49 of the 50 states still subscribe to the doctrine of  “employment at will,” a legal fiction that no other modern democracy has ever embraced.  

    Lastly, there is little evidence that the notion of “free trade” -  as exemplified by the open movement of goods, services and financial instruments across nation-state borders - has benefitted ordinary Americans - including highly educated ones - whose jobs have been out-sourced.  As entrepreneurs scour the world over for ever cheaper labor costs, the masters of the universe in financial world that now dominates the U.S. economy seek short-term profits from stock trading, but refuse to invest in companies that create jobs in the U.S. or invest in critical infrastructure and research and development, notwithstanding the Federal Reserve’s policies that permit these institutions to borrow money from the American tax-payers at zero interest.

    Friedman’s question “can you pass the bar?” ignores the importance and relevance of collective action. Ultimately, we are all in this together and it’s well past the time to begin a serious national conversation about ways to make this economy work for everyone. An economy that works well for everyone - one which provides hope for the future and a job - is the best antidote to despair and suicide.     


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In statistics, such information is called an unobtrusive indicator. As you've pointed out, dry statistics like this tell a sorry tale for American society much larger than they might appear to be at first glance.
Off shoring of jobs is not going to lessen. Automation is not going to lessen. Jobs are going, Going, GONE!

It's time to look at ways to unhook income from employment unless you want an awful lot of poverty stricken folks coming out to look for the 1% with murder in their eyes.

The old elitist attitude of, "Get rich on the backs of the working people and then dump the working people," isn't going to fly for much longer.
The market system depends upon a sensible flow of money to consumers and both technology and labor rights suppression is sucking off purchasing power. It is pure insanity and cannot sustain an economic system.
So what are you saying Paul your Jesuit pope is going to save us all from Thomas Friedman? I read this same information about suicide rates among middle aged Whites at least a week ago but it sure wasn’t in the NY Times. I haven’t read that since my dog was housebroken. The Vatican has endorsed and sponsored globalism at every step of the way. Why don’t you ask your pope what he has done for all the Catholics in Haiti?
So why would anyone want to kill themselves just because they have no future facing decades of unemployment, homelessness and feelings of uselessness with society refusing to recognize their plight?
Very comprehensive post about an extremely worrisome subject. Friedman is either ill-informed or extremely dishonest, as unemployment rates among young people are double those of baby boomers.

There is increasing credible evidence that economic growth has ended - for good, owing to the end of cheap fossil fuels. I think we are looking at a society where only about half of able bodied adults will have jobs.
perhaps a 'clientage' will result, an informal service class hanging about the great man's home and hoping to pick up odd jobs for small tips and access to throw-away food.

revolution is easy, but it requires a certain amount of character which appears to be lacking in america. of course, most are still employed, and so not interested in rocking the boat.
Jack Heart, I don't understand your rancor. I juxtaposed the comments of the pope to Thomas Friedman's because the Aristotelian-Thomistic conservative tradition that he represents stands in stark contrast to the liberal tradition.

The liberal tradition - which includes Social Darwinism and market capitalism - that Friedman endorses almost singularly dominates American political discourse. In contrast to the liberal tradition, the conservative tradition emphasizes the essential social nature of all human beings, the importance of political community and the mutuality of rights and obligations.

Contrary to your claims, Catholic social doctrine does not endorse Thomas Friedman's vision of a global capitalism. Historically, and to the present, it stresses the importance of unions, workers' rights, of the state acting as a positive instrument for the public good, and the need for economic activities to be subordinated to the needs of the community.

If you read my book, you will discover that I also find much to admire in the socialist tradition. It correctly emphasizes the importance of economic equality, but it also seeks to recapture the sense of community and the interconnectedness of all of us in contrast to the liberal project - which eschews those values and sees only isolated, solitary human beings competing with one another to acquire ever more things in a marketplace that has eclipsed the whole of civil society.

I also don't understand what has led you to surmise that I am enamored of the papacy or the pronunciamentos that have issued forth from the Vatican since Pius IX browbeat the cardinals into endorsing his megalomaniacal view of papal infallibility .

Finally, perhaps we are all complicit on the issue of Haiti, but it is an intractable problem. You may be sure that global corporations will do nothing to help Haiti unless they can divine a profit. Haiti's problems have little to do with Rome or the Catholic Church. The country has long been ruled by a selfish, haughty bourgeois elite that has plundered the country's resources and exploited the overwhelming majority of its impoverished citizens mercilessly.
What has become of the NYT? It's getting more and more difficult to distinguish from the WSJ.

As for Friedman, he's living proof that "passing the bar", as he so cavalierly puts it, is less dependent on actual talent and ability and more on being a mouth-piece for the rich, powerful and well-connected. Like most of his ilk, he doesn't understand basic math -- not everyone can be exceptional, and half of the people are below average. Or if he does understand the math, he seems to be totally uncaring that half the people are destined to fall by the wayside in the Darwinian/Dickensian jungle he so blithely touts. But hey, what can you expect from someone who believes in a flat earth?

Interestingly -- in a rather perverse sense, Friedman's no better than Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin or any number of paid stooges in the Fox chicken coop, who've been made rich beyond all deserving by excreting chicken-shit for those on the opposite end of the feed-trough from Friedman's constituency.
Whether it is Friedman or the pope or our legislators or Paul Nevins and everyone else in this country…

…the thing that is missing is the fact that the value of human labor is NEVER going to be anywhere near enough to ensure that everyone who needs and wants a decent paying job will be able to get one.

EARNING A LIVING is an anachronism.

No company worth its salt is every going to pay more for labor than it absolutely has to…Henry Ford myths notwithstanding.

The value of human labor is tiny…and it will get even less valuable as each day goes by.

We must divorce ourselves from the concept that individuals must EARN a living.

The things we have to wonder is: What the hell has to happen to make that completely obvious reality an “obvious reality” to everyone?
OLN refers to suicides as "unobtrusive". wtf?!
yeah and what is the multiplier for # of ppl in suicides vs those killed by terrorists per year? 100x? 1000x?
"social darwinism" is one of those terms like "class warfare" that people think they are being polite by omitting in polite company. as the crony capitalists rob them blind, sooner or later.
@Frank A. " We must divorce ourselves from the concept that individuals must EARN a living."
Frank, I've never seen you go so far over the top. Are you OK?
Seriously, you can't be serious! Note, only one exclamation point.
Outstanding piece. My opinion is that there can never be a job for absolutely everyone. There are too many of us on this fast shrinking and degrading planet. I feel the only real economic boom the west ever experienced was immediately following WWII. My parents and those of that era (the so called "greatest generation"), benefitted greatly from a boom that was limited to the allied nations. When baby boomers were well into growth, things were starting to go awry, especially with regard to our "military industrial complex". As to suicide, I think my baby boomer generation has lived for the most part in a vastly unrealistic state, wanting to "have it all". The baby boomer, pot smoking, narcissistic generation is now being hit with a huge dose of reality. Baby boomers are not innocent of making huge mistakes, politically economically and socially.
Horrifying statistics.
Moreso when you take into account all the folk who are going the same route by more socially acceptable means i.e. smoking, drinking, eating themselves to earlier deaths.
It is interesting to see how corporate people can refer to their behavior as "survival of the fittest" when it is not a struggle between people, but between organizations. The only people who benefit from these epic dinosaur wars are the executives. All the minions, the peons underneath them, are expendable, outsourceable, and irrelevant. It may be that they are doing what they have to do, to survive. This is all the more reason, that we need to have the government step in and exert some control over the excesses that are perpetuated by the independent entities that want to control everything. The CEO who says, I have to fight to survive, and then expect the people whose jobs have been outsourced to submit to a dog eat dog world-- here we have the essence of what is wrong with the whole idea of Social Darwinism.
Having read a lot of Friedman, I wouldn't call him a cheerleader. Most of what he's doing is describing and diagnosing, predicting what will have value.

In terms of Social Darwinism, my views are closest to what Jan said. You can't sustain an economy without customers and no one is concentrating on the health of the customer base. Social Darwinism is Survival of the Fewest.

A more collective approach makes sense.
I've read some articles elsewhere indicating suicide rates have been up for the past decade and I can only guess if any of these suicides could have been prevented by intervention of some kind.

I'd also like to know what percentage of these suicides [per CDC's records] were taking prescription drugs, particularly since antidepressants have been known to cause permanent side effects, including death. Examples would be excellent and graphs displaying the shifts would also provide visuals.
The comments on this (quite excellent and timely) article have divided into two threads, one keeping to the primary point about the increased suicide rate among ex baby boomers (they ain't babies any more, in case you haven't noticed) and a general pile-on with Thomas Friedman at the bottom of the pile. This may be due to the fact that there are two separate articles in this post, one about suicide rates and one about Thomas Friedman.
This is however a false juxtaposition, because Friedman was quoted on the subject of the rising suicide rate, but only on the advisability of a new economic order based on greed.

As far as the first thread is concerned, I find concerns about rising suicide rates amusing, not because I find suicide amusing, but rather because no one wants to grapple with the fact that the rising suicide rate is nothing less than a societal adjustment process to compensate for the excessive numbers of useless people in the population.

This is prima fascia evidence that social Darwinism, as a descriptive tool, works. It's essential immortality as an operational philosophy is quite another matter.

Irrelevant people are committing suicide precisely because they are irrelevant. This is a natural adaptation mechanism, the species adjusting to decreasing resources, and is a normal biological process, albeit one that offers no sympathies to those who select themselves for removal.

This is something that happens whenever resources are overwhelmed. Interestingly, the suicide rate went out at the onset of World War II and stayed low throughout the war. Conversely, our current and recently served service members have the highest recorded suicide rate among military personnel, for the same reason that middle aged (not baby boomer any more) people are killing themselves off: there's no room for them at the trough.

The bottom line on Tom Friedman, however, is best delivered by Paul Krugman, his NYT colleague who has repeatedly criticized Friedman as a poser, an apologist and a derivative thinker who functions as an establishment mouthpiece.

Without getting into the statistics, here are some bare faced facts that Krugman knows and Friedman ignores:

Education doesn't matter. Many of the highest paid people in this society don't even have undergraduate degrees; others are working in fields they weren't trained for. Education matters only to the extent that it provides access to well-paying middle management positions that are essential to the economy, and disposable as soon as someone thinks up a way to eliminate them.

Take, for example, pattern makers, a breed of men and women who made wooden patterns used to cast metal components. There were people who made upwards of $100,000 a year not very long ago, a very skilled trade, now decimated by 3D printing systems that can do in minutes what once took a pattern maker days or weeks to accomplish.

Fact: the youth unemployment rate exceeds the ex-not-baby boomer unemployment rate....and those are the people who HAVE the training the Friedman thinks will make them immune to economic upheaval.

I could go on, but it's Sunday and I don't want to depress myself.
Anyone not yet convinced, should visit Ted Frier's blog and read his most recent article: The Center Cannot Hold.
Sagemerlin recommended I read your post as providing the consequences of this "Brave New World" whose political enablers I describe in my most recent post. I am glad he did.

The stories you tell are tragic and all of us of a ripe old age feel vulnerable in a new economy that seems bent on making work itself obsolete. And so I thought your last graph was the most important: "Friedman’s question “can you pass the bar?” ignores the importance and relevance of collective action. Ultimately, we are all in this together and it’s well past the time to begin a serious national conversation about ways to make this economy work for everyone. An economy that works well for everyone - one which provides hope for the future and a job - is the best antidote to despair and suicide. "

At some point we really do have to ask a question about our economy: "What's the point?" What are we trying to accomplish here? If we could build robots to provide for all our material needs would that be a good thing if "surplus labor" became a recurrent and irresolvable problem? Would we, as a fallback position, have the political maturity to devise a new "Work Ethic" that involved massive income redistribution by the government to account for the fact that a "labor" market to set wages and benefits no longer existed in any meaningful sense, and so to ensure that people did not starve in the streets or live lives of desperation a different way was guarantee "each according to his needs."

History does repeat itself doesn't it? These are exactly the questions that societies had to face during the Industrial Revolution when the way people earned a living underwent massive change, creating the kind of society and the kind of tragedies that made Charles Dickens famous, and Marx.
I read that study and it surely gave me pause. I happen to have known 2 suicides and they were both in their thirties and neither had unusual money problems. What is with this emphasis on money as the sole reason to commit suicide--it is not that easy.

Both came to me in very vivid, and desperate dreams and so I knew in my thirties that suicide can let you go to a very very bad place. Ergo: I would never do it nor reccommed it except for terminal patients who would die soon anyway.

So here is what I believe: We of the 60's generation, now in our sixties or older (for me the sixties began after Kennedy's assasination and only those in thier tweties--aside from those older singers--know what it was really like, each in her own way.

So, to get on point, we were the tiny generation where as someone else said "youth was not wasted on the young." This is absolutely true for those of us who did not overdue drugs. Now, I have known many who get sick physically and of course mentally with all the diseases that might come our way after 65 or 75. Or whenever.

Used to being active engaged and part of the youth culture holds for many of us, surelu does for me. But there are suicides in every social class. It is a giving up due to loss of that unbelievably great time. I had a hint of why those who off themselves do so this week. I tripped in Central Park an banged up my right knee; then the next day slipped in the slower and banged up my right knee. In addition I have horrid sores on my fingers. Anti-biotics help. And this is totally kid stuff. But what if you went to eight funerals in one year for friends you really loved and then got sick yourself, big sick not little. There would be among many in our age group the desire to check out. Because? Not due to poverty or lack of medical care--I have medical care and I never go to doctors. So what is behind these horrifying statictics. Methinks it is that we were part of a great many movements and now, all that is gone. We have fewer friends what with everyone moving. And we were not prepared for the rigors of aging, esp aging alone.

I never understand why all these are referred back to bank accounts. Most of us were poor in the sixties but we sure had a collective love. Now, with that gone and with many who never married or we who lost our husbands to death, I get it. Life throws you three or four curve balls and who wants to go on knowing it will only get worse.
Sorry I haven't been back in a while.

What Friedman said about the war in Iraq was that the only way you could justify it was as replacing a nasty dictator, not WMDs and absolutely not Al Qaida, and that it would only work if we managed the peace,which was more critical than managing the war. Rumsfeld did the exact opposite, trying to handle the most critical functions on the cheap, so the electricity went off, looting started, and we got blamed for the sectarian violence that followed.

Friedman doesn't advocate globalism, he says that it's inevitable and that you have to take it into account.

I've read a lot of Friedman.

I like Krugman but he'd be more successful at affecting policy if he acted like a hack once in a while. There are times he has to break it down a step further. Monetary policy is great, but he could be talking about what exactly creates jobs and how that affects the deficit picture. I get what he says but I keep wanting him to make his conclusions more unavoidable. The logic is there but sometimes I think he needs to get really basic.
Friedman thinks being an artificially isolated, atomized, oscially powerless individual "bargaining" one-on-one with the giant, rogue criminal corporations that dominate & define society is the essence of "freedom" and "human potential," usheirng in a new age of genuine "meritocracy". What a bizarre fairy tale!
Friedman's best book, and only one I've been able to read with any interest was on the Middle-East, and that was most valuable in spite of Friedman's own views because he brought so much evidence to bear from his years as a reporter.

Nobody that I've seen makes a more convincing case AGAINST Israel because it wasn't what he intended, but certainly accomplishes. It remains that and was recently re-issued.

Since then, I've found him boring.
On my generation: the problem is that so few of us grew up. In reacting to the assumptions of our parents generation, many of us became our own best enemies, especially those who came of age a little later, after the majority shifted to an anti-Viet Nam, anti-government, and ultimately anti-democratic ideology.

And when adolescents don't get what they want, they run away in self-righteous acts like suicide. Read Bly's book, "The Sibling Society."