Americans Need to Come to Grips With Unpleasant Realities
It is so sad to see us Americans as vultures picking over the dead carcass of our failed dream. We need to get a grip and come to terms with reality in all its ugly beauty.
The days for a minimalist state or government are long past. We get the government we deserve (or need). We are not the same self-reliant people we were 200 years ago. We no longer live on farms and produce locally enough to satisfy our own needs. There is no more 40 acres and a mule, no more community barn-raising, no more vast oceans of cheaply recoverable oil under Texas.
We need programs like Social Security and Medicare. And - get this - they must be paid for! We live in a global economy, and we need some of the protections for local industry that Alexander Hamilton envisioned so long ago. Instead, because somebody called it "free" trade, we are unilaterally disarming in the face of modern day mercantilism practiced by those who have a trade surplus with us.
The greedy consumerism and Walmartism of the past 30 years have abetted in the gutting of the productive capacity of this once great nation. We consume what we do not produce and borrow instead of trading.
The classical economists would realize that we are not receiving the gains from trade by specializing in the production of one commodity in which we have a comparative advantage (say technology) and importing something which we are relatively less good at (say textiles); we are importing pretty much everything and exporting pieces of paper. These pieces of paper will impair our ability to finance the really important things in the future, such as wars, infrastructure investment and recovery from economic or natural disasters.
Our corporate culture, which has come to operate as a private piggy bank for its management, and the monomaniacal pursuit of the next quarter's earnings report have outsourced our jobs on the altar of "cost reduction" and short term gains. What happens when, unlike in the vision of Henry Ford, the employees cannot afford to purchase the product of the corporation? When our great consumer society that has been the engine for economic growth all over the world since the end of World War II stops being able to perform that vital function?
We have financialized everything and our stock market has become a giant casino, where our "too big to fail" institutions have got the government "house" to cover their bets. It is no longer about providing credit to finance the real economy. It is about making paper gains to extract the maximum compensation for those at the top. If you or I were to make such bets, we would probably be sent to jail.
Capitalism is still the best way to motivate production and initiative. But when the wealthy and powerful are able to lobby government to change the laws and regulations, we embark on a dangerous road toward the tyranny of the plutocrats.
It is amazing that the Republicans can suddenly be so sanctimonious about the deficit and debt. We went from a surplus and a $5 trillion debt to record deficits and a $10 trillion debt in just eight years under George W. Bush. We had tax cuts that were not paid for and the first war in our history that was not paid for with either tax increases or the sale of bonds.
So now the (Mad Hatter's?) tea partiers think we are overtaxed and underrepresented? Or are they just sore that we have reached the end of the rainbow and the pot of gold is not there? Our representatives can't create magic and undo the past 30 years of borrow-and-spend.
We need some sense of community, of shared experience. We need to see each other as being embarked upon a common enterprise, instead of as the enemy in ideological warfare. We need a national dialogue about just how big a financial mess we are in and what to do about it.
But that is one of the great misunderstandings about democracy - one our Founding Fathers worried about as we reached greater size in land mass and population. We are no longer a community. Civil discourse becomes less likely as we become more atomized and less personal in our critical relationships.
As Benjamin Franklin put it, "We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately."
Tom Goergen lives in Southern Pines. Contact him at email@example.com.
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