by R. Scott Porter
(Swans - March 23, 2009) Looking back, one might conclude that we have had a pretty good run, here in America, for the past sixty years since World War Two. Of course, there have been a few minor recessions, market corrections, housing downturns, spikes in fuel prices, riots, poorly handled natural catastrophes, unnecessary wars, and the like. Until now we have always seemed to pull out of these setbacks, to forge ahead, presumably stronger. Unfortunately, we consistently downplayed, or flat-out ignored, the systemic causes, and their devastating effects, of our dysfunctional society. We allowed those root causes to fester, until now they have boiled to the surface, to potentially ruin us. For instance, up until now it was just too painful to seriously contemplate the possibility that corporate capitalism might become "too big to fail." That we would eventually wind up feeding the beast, throwing our money down a rat hole, or whipping a dead horse. That might still sound rather blunt to most patriotic Americans, but I think it is more patriotic to address reality, rather than continuing to blindly follow a jingoistic business philosophy that might now prove to be the root cause of our downward-spiraling economy.
Our current chaotic business environment, with its lack of regulation, oversight, and moral direction, is a direct result of Ronald Reagan's misguided opinion that government is the cause of all our problems. The true cause of all our problems is, of course, the inherent fallibility of the human spirit. Until we admit this we will continue to descend into oblivion. Until we agree that we must adhere to strict regulation of our business dealings, we will continue to fall prey to thieves.
Perhaps the primary responsibility of government is to properly regulate business interests in order to avoid the inevitable calamity caused by greed. We learned this lesson during the last depression, and now we will have to relearn it. When corporations are allowed to grow exponentially, without proper regulation, and are given the same rights as individuals, corruption inevitably follows. It is human nature to take advantage of a situation. That is the core reason for government in the first place. If we someday evolve beyond greed we might be able to function with less government oversight. Until then, we can only strive to keep our governments accountable.
Additionally, it seems the primary motivation for American involvement in war has almost always been economic in nature. Religious differences have often been exploited, in order to cover up the root cause, but if we dig deep enough we always find our military-industrial complex as the main beneficiary. We must finally admit this basic fact and not allow big business to drag us into yet another conflict. With every new war we move closer to that nuclear conflagration that will devastate human civilization. There is no denying this, and if we rationalize it, we are lost.
Because of our perpetual hangover from the rugged individualism of the past two centuries we tend to ignore the fact that our society has evolved into a more socialistic, rather than a purely democratic, model. Our military, police, firefighters, public libraries, public schools, post office, city, state and federal governments, courts, national parks, regulatory agencies, Social Security, Welfare and Medicare, are all "socialistic" in nature. They are supported by taxpayer dollars and administered by government employees who earn a decent wage, and are, theoretically, kept from profiting on the side. We need to admit these facts and embrace this model in the areas of health care and, temporarily at least, in banking. At this point, further privatization will only lead to more corruption. When, and if, we return to verifiable elections we might legitimately continue to call our society "democratic," but we should also try to destigmatize "socialism," because we will always need some mix of the two. Marxism, communism, fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism have all given socialism a black eye, but really, there isn't anything particularly wrong with good government, is there?
It is way past the time to bring back strong governmental regulation in the areas of antitrust legislation, limits on corporations, reinstitution of trade tariffs, raising taxes on the super-wealthy, allowing businesses to fail if they are insolvent, rebuilding our industrial base, supporting small business and small farms and rebuilding the middle class. Free enterprise will still thrive. The difference must be that only the best and the brightest and not the diabolical thieves, will prosper. We need to get back to the basics before we prove that The United States of America is not "too big to fail."
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