Families Matter

Why Societal Origin and Family Structures
Are Important

Governance, Economics, and History


We have set ourselves a formidable goal. Believing that the human experience contains multiple dimensions is not a twenty first century revelation. We seek to delineate and then formulate an integration of roughly three of these dimensions. This goal began, in order to influence understanding and use of the benevolent parenting process to overcome children’s unnecessary problems. By training parents to be the therapist 24/7, we found a powerful tool to foster growth and happiness for their troubled child. Our encounters with these parents, who we were not trying to individually change or therapize, elicited in the therapist a respect and collaboration that was qualitatively different than the real respect we would otherwise have for them if they were seen as patients.

We were collaborators and partners in clearly defined, limited enterprise for their child’s sake. The therapy process asked from them, only what was mutually agreed to be in the emotional-growth of the child. This unexpectedly allowed for an approach of the overall family with a much broader view and experience on the therapist’s part.

Motivation was consistently high; resistance and defensiveness consistently low. The situation was seen as almost like a supervisory session with a beginning therapy professional where personal issues took a back seat unless clearly intruding on the work. This atmosphere produced a view of the system circles that Murray Bowen, MD, emphasized. Restoration of primary and often extended family balance and function was an acknowledged goal. Noting and exploring these larger circles inevitably led to including non-traditional elements into the therapy room. The ethnic backgrounds of the patients became relevant (along with other systems elements) to understanding the balance problem. Intimate ethnic understanding was among the potential sources of resolution. From these, the societal background (the macroeconomic, historical-political; often more than two generations back) stood out as relevant to straightening out the crossed wires in the picture.

How to make sense of “why it’s working?”

01/25/2016, 11AM

Here is our theory. We hypothesize that certain parallel processes take place in the lives of individuals, families, communities and whole societies. These parallel processes interact and produce parallel results. For instance, repeated war, invasion, repeated alien occupation and chaos, almost always produce absolute tyrants and autocrats in a society. After several generations of autocracy and tyranny, in a political-economic context, (such as southern and eastern Europe suffered for hundreds of years) first the institutions, and then the families in that society, will demonstrate a tyrannical structure whereby the authority-father rules the roost and must be obeyed by all in the group-household. In turn those fathers need to obey the patriarch of the extended family, village and tribe. This governance style continues up into the largest circles (institutions and the power strucures) and down to the smallest (the family and parenting) and the individual citizen-serf. In turn, this allows the future citizen to fit into a vertical, citizen-abusive, exploitative political economy. Thinking for one’s “self” is not survival enhancing or homeostasis enhancing in such cultures. "Character disorder" and "personality disorder" is the terminology that the western mental health professions use to describe this process that is at least partially societally determined. Think Madoff, Tony Soprano, the Greek and other bureaucrats and politicians that foisted deliberate and consistent fantasy GDP numbers to the European Union in the years before everything hit the fan. These societies throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, produced certain self-perpetuating adaptation patterns (called character and personality) in many of their vertical institutions and in their abused citizens, in a manner similar to an "abusive family" pattern and structure. "Character disorder" and "personality development" is the terminology that the western mental health professions use to describe this process that is at least partially societally determined. Think "sub rosa", think, Madoff, Tony Soprano, the Greek and other bureaucrats and politicians that foisted deliberate and consistent fantasy GDP numbers to the European Union in the years before everything hit the fan. These societies throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, produced certain self perpetuating adaptation patterns (called character and personality disorders. "Pay taxes? Be honest? To these tyrants? Why would we?" More later.

The opposite is true following major democratic disruptions after several generations of citizen based, horizontal poli-economic structure (think Magna Carta, England, 1215 AD) as in the industrial north and west which avoided the alien invasions and occupations.

This is not pathology vs health. Nor is it good vs bad. It is an example of a "multi circle systemic " process that is adaptive to all human survival. This disparity in societal patterns does not influence a diagnosis of real pathology perse. “Dysfunctional” is a more appropriate term when a tribal person or family seeks to adapt to an individuating culture. (Of course the opposite would also be true.)

The west’s survival depended to a large extent on a horizontal  view of individuals whose legal rights and individual selfhood were guaranteed. There was enough stability and predictability to allow enough freedom for growth. Power was interactive and somewhat horizontal eventually spreading to the four corners of today’s western societies.In an opposite pattern, the east survived through enforcing a "group-self" wherein survival was dependent on merged in-group boundaries and unity of thinking and acting directed from the top down. Constant danger of external aggression inclined the societies to constrict and enforce uniform rigidity. Survival of the native sub-groups dictated a vertical non-interactive distribution of power, tribal dependency and out-group (stranger) demonization.  (Tribal societies that  have arisen in the twentieth century and become super-urban and "industrial modernity poli-economic societies" are still not immune to a vertical outlook; e.g. Japan, China; although globalization is having a lessening effect.)

02/19/2016, 10AM

Is the global world of 2016 different than the parochial world of 1976? Forty years. Of course it is. How? Are the differences in America connected to the changes in the global village? Of course they are but how and in what dimensions; what are the parameters that even describe the changes? Once described, do we need to manage these dimensions.? How?

Should we try to not manage them; let them just happen, drift on, like the wind? Que Sera, sera? How we decide makes a difference, right? Also, how we describe or delineate relevant societal themes will help us decide. Available vocabulary matters. Our purpose in this section is to point to certain themes, dimensions, and unacknowledged elements; to accurately describe the phenomena and begin a conversation to aid management for the future even if that requires new vocabulary.

For us ''globalization'' and "modernity" are the most important ‎terms in describing many of the 1976 - 2016 disparities.

The dimension we wish to underline is the interface between families and the macroeconomic and governance systems of different cultural areas of the globe within this “globalization” context.

What started as a casual observation has burgeoned into a theoretical statement covering several interactive vectors. The observation starting about 15-20 ‎years ago, included what seemed to be an increase in entitlement feelings across the board in youngsters of all ages. Having raised 5 kids with a 15 year spread in age, I had been aware of an uphill battle whenever I tried to instill values of self- reliance, responsibility and reliability and such. I think it got done, but it seemed easier in the older than the younger. Later I noticed that public behavior of kids in general was much less disciplined and respectful than what I was used to.

In keeping with our theory of ever-larger systems’ circles, we will try to illustrate the interactivity between parenting, political economics and societal values.

Please read these excerpts from this excellent article concerning a societal trend of “non-consequence enforcement” and tolerance of consistent rule breaking among modern children, from a Pennsylvania’s pediatrician’s viewpoint. Please note that he assumes it started 15-25 years ago.

Dec. 17, 2015 7:04 p.m. ET, WSJ.com


“Kyle was absorbed in a videogame on his cellphone, so I asked his mom, “How long has Kyle had a stomach ache?” Mom said, “I’m thinking it’s been about two days.” Then Kyle replied, “Shut up, mom. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” And he gave a snorty laugh, without looking up from his videogame. Kyle is 10 years old. I have been a physician for 29 years. This sort of language and behavior from a 10-year-old was very rare in the 1980s and 1990s. It would have been unusual a decade ago. It is common today. America’s children are immersed in a culture of disrespect: for parents, teachers, and one another. They learn it from television, even on the Disney Channel, where parents are portrayed as clueless, out-of-touch or absent. They learn it from celebrities or the Internet. They learn it from social media. They teach it to one another. They wear T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like “I’m not shy. I just don’t like you.”

 “… The challenge of raising children in America today is different from 30 or 50 years ago…”

 “…If you’re going to make a change, don’t be subtle. New Year’s Day is as good a time as any to sit down with your children and explain that there are going to be some changes in this household: changes in how we talk, in how we behave, in how we treat one another. It is possible to create a culture of respect in the home while living in the U.S. today. It isn’t easy, but it can be done…”

 Dr. Sax is a practicing physician in West Chester, Pa. and the author of “The Collapse of  Parenting,” out this month from Basic Books.

Now please read these excerpts from the writings in two different venues, from two serious and respected economists: neither has content that is in any way related to family systems, parenting or societal factors. However, they both represent concern about a consistent long term deviation from once agreed upon rules of the national governmental and international rules of financial behavior. I think a careful reading, with the above parenting article kept in mind, will reveal interesting parallel lines that also are described as starting economically 30-40 years ago.

All three articles seem to share the following themes or elements in common:

1 – In America, respect for authority (parents or governmental economic authority) has significantly diminished.

2 - Kids, politicians feel increasingly comfortable ignoring long standing rules of appropriate conduct.

3 – Consequences for misbehaving kids, politicians and bankers has diminished.

4 – “Entitlement” is out of control, politically, financially and in families

(I know there are many parents and members of the helping professions who are allergic to the details of international finance and economics. You might shortly tune out to these financial elements in my presentation. Try not to do that. It’s important to understand this stuff.)

Now, please read this article in BARRONS FEB15, 2016: THOMAS G. DONLAN, HOW HIGH CAN THE DEBT GO?


The Federal Budget Mess Is Getting Worse Again

The U.S. is another year older and deeper in debt.

By Thomas G. Donlan

 “After adjusting for the 92% decline in the value of the dollar since World War II, the 1946 debt works out to be just $3.28 trillion. However, 1946 still holds another record at 118% of gross domestic product, compared with 101.8% now.

There is another important difference between 1946 and the present: After WW II, the borrowing all but stopped, and the country’s economy grew faster than federal spending. Today, nobody intends to stop the borrowing, and the economy is sluggish.

When a war ends, we don’t keep blowing things up. But there’s no end to spending on big programs for people—Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare, and Medicaid. By the way, federal accounting does not deign to notice about $90 trillion worth of promises to present and future beneficiaries…”

 “… Still, it would be a good idea for presidents and congressional budget committees to draft balanced budgets, showing what kind of spending cuts they would enact if they had to live within their means.

It would be just for show, of course….”

 “. …If, by some frightful miracle, the president’s budget is passed as written and remained law for 10 years, federal taxes would reach 20% of GDP for the first time since fiscal 2000, when the economy was unexpectedly booming. But it still wouldn’t balance…”

 “…but posturing is all they’ve got in the modern era.

"...House Speaker Paul Ryan noted accurately that the new budget is the eighth one drafted by Obama that showed no path to a future in which revenues and expenditures could be balanced. How shocking….”

 “…We also know that when the U.S. government gets more tax revenues, it spends like a college freshman with a new credit card. Democrats and Republicans are the two wings of the Something-for-Nothing Party…”

 “…we know that members of Congress define an investment as anything that will make grateful constituents repay favors with votes. Whether it’s a new interchange out on the Interstate (making somebody’s nearby property more valuable) or charging stations for electric cars (adding to the demand for coal), the name of the game is still patronage.That’s what candidates do understand…”

The following article shares a similar concern in a destructive economic pattern deepy tied to a corrupt, unresponsive political system.


> DEC 23, 2015

> The Perils of Fed Gradualism

 “…The problem arises because the Fed, like other major central banks, has now become a creature of financial markets rather than a steward of the real economy. This transformation has been under way since the late 1980s, when monetary discipline broke the back of inflation and the Fed was faced with new challenges….”

 “…The challenges of the post-inflation era came to a head during Alan Greenspan’s 18-and-a-half-year tenure as Fed Chair. The stock-market crash of October 19, 1987 – occurring only 69 days after Greenspan had been sworn in – provided a hint of what was to come. In response to a one-day 23% plunge in US equity prices, the Fed moved aggressively to support the brokerage system and purchase government securities. ….”


“…In retrospect, this was the template for what became known as the “Greenspan put” – massive Fed liquidity injections aimed at stemming financial-market disruptions in the aftermath of a crisis. As the markets were battered repeatedly in the years to follow – from the savings-and-loan crisis (late 1980s) and the Gulf War (1990-1991) to the Asian Financial Crisis (1997-1998) and terrorist attacks (September 11, 2001) – the Greenspan put became an essential element of the Fed’s market-driven tactics. ….”

 “…No longer was the Fed responding just to idiosyncratic crises and the market disruptions they spawned. It had also given asset markets a role as an important source of economic growth. The asset-dependent economy quickly assumed a position of commensurate prominence in framing the monetary-policy debate.

"...The Fed had, in effect, become beholden to the monster it had created. The corollary was that it had also become steadfast in protecting the financial-market-based underpinnings of the US economy...."

"...Largely for that reason, and fearful of “Japan Syndrome” in the aftermath of the collapse of the US equity bubble, the Fed remained overly accommodative during the 2003-2006 period. The federal funds rate was held at a 46-year low of 1% through June 2004, before being raised 17 times in small increments of 25 basis points per move over the two-year period from mid-2004 to mid-2006. Yet it was precisely during this period of gradual normalization and prolonged accommodation that unbridled risk-taking sowed the seeds of the Great Crisis that was soon to come. ….”

 “…Over time, the Fed’s dilemma has become increasingly intractable. ….”

 “…Today’s Fed inherits the deeply entrenched moral hazard of the Asset Economy. ….”

 “…The longer the Fed remains trapped in this mindset, the tougher its dilemma becomes – and the greater the systemic risks in financial markets and the asset-dependent US economy. It will take a fiercely independent central bank to wean the real economy from the markets…”

 "…A Fed caught up in the political economy of the growth debate is incapable of performing that function. ….”

 “…Only by shortening the normalization timeline can the Fed hope to reduce the build-up of systemic risks. The sooner the Fed takes on the markets, the less likely the markets will be to take on the economy. Yes, a steeper normalization path would produce an outcry. But that would be far preferable to another devastating crisis. ….”

 There is no mention in any of the three articles that the most productive period of coping with our financial obligations was overseen by Chairman Greenspan’s predecessor; William Volcker. Chairman Volcker, a true Washington outsider, was responding to a period of runaway inflation that began in the 1970’s. This inflation followed two “large system circle” events. The Vietnam war did more than initiate a long term erosion of trust in our political system and its managers. President Johnson, ignoring long standing economic principles decided to push through a “guns and butter” political-economic program that firmly set the nation on a destructive inflationary course. Instead of taking the unpopular courageous steps that Dr. Volcker eventually  had to take, President Nixon took the “easy path” of negating the Gold Standard of international economic rules that were in place since 1946. Rule abiding savers around the world were hurt by first the Johnson inflation, and next the Richard Nixon (known at the time as “tricky dick”) abdication of world currency responsibility,

The nonlinear larger system circles of Stress > Cowardice > Mistrust > Withdrawal > Corruption > Institutional Collapse, that took place in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s may be seen as having eventually drilled down through the multi-generation transmission process to our own current political, educational and family institutions.

More coming soon!
More to come. Comments and/or questions are welcome and will be published upon request;

Email us at info@parentingandsocieties.com