Thursday, October 22, 2009

America Shall Overcome

This is the third post in a series about demonstrating adulthood as a society. In part 1 I discussed the new long-term revenue realities that state governments must face and that the federal government will eventually face. In part 2 I took exception to Indiana Governor Mitch Danielscontention that this situation “is a test of our adulthood as a democracy.” After gnashing on the problems with pure democracies, I will now discuss what Daniels probably really meant.

Like most people of the past few generations, I assume that Daniels is conflating the terms democracy and republic. The average American that uses the word democracy to refer to our system of government does not usually intend to deny the fact that we actually have a republic with some democratic features. Sometimes people use the term “representative democracy.” But usually, all of these things mean roughly the same thing in the minds of most Americans.

I think it’s clear that I believe that there is and should be a marked distinction between the idiom ‘democracy’ and our system of government. A democracy has been described as two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. Democracies are not capable of demonstrating “adulthood.” Our Founders designed a republican form of government that is supposed to temper the excesses inherent in democracies.

That being said, I will assume the best of the statement made by Governor Daniels and accept the notion that what he really meant is that the current and coming revenue crisis that faces and will face our state and federal governments is a test of the capability of our political system to exhibit adult levels of responsibility and accountability.

If that’s what Daniels meant, then I agree with him. In that case, will we pass the test? It’s difficult to know. If I could tell the future, I would already be a billionaire. But I think we have some cues.

American public policy is often myopic and short sighted. It is often driven by pandering to both big business and the dependent class. The chief concern of a significant portion of society is how others are going to take care of them. The size of the dependent class is growing and many politicians are happy with that. We currently run our monetary system like a banana republic and pretend that there is no limit to what we can spend.

But historically, when the chips are really down and when matters are really critical, America tends to make the right decision. It is when we are actually up against a wall that we seem to do what’s best, at least from a big picture perspective. (There have always been individuals and groups that have been less than helpful during such times.)

The fact that our state and federal governments are acting like adolescents rather than adults right now tells me that the average American doesn’t currently perceive conditions to be critical. When that perception eventually gels, no amount of greed and ineptitude in government (or in its business and organizational supporters) will be able to withstand the call to do what must be done.

In other words, I’m suggesting that it will get worse before it gets better. But when we hit bottom, we will pull up our bootstraps and move in the right direction. We are, after all, Americans.

Of course, like every other foreteller of the future, I have nothing but history and hunches to upon which to base this theory. Others imagine different scenarios, some darker and some rosier. And it is impossible to say at this point that any of these are wrong. But I suspect that a period of more responsible policy will eventually arrive when there are few credible alternatives left.


Charles D said...

Well, unsurprisingly, I disagree with you or Daniels.

In order to be mature, a democracy must insure that it's citizens are mature. That they are educated, informed, and that the electoral process is not dominated by money. We have failed on all three counts. Our educational system was ill-designed from the start to actually educate and predictably has failed. Our media are in the hands of a small group of oligarchs who use their power principally to incite the passions of the masses to act in their (the oligarch's) interests. The dominance of money in our electoral process is obvious.

Perhaps even more importantly, citizens in a working democracy have to have the luxury of adequate spare time to read and discuss with one another the vital issues of the day. You can't have democracy in a country where the majority are focused on survival or where they face imminent financial ruin.

Over time, we could restore our citizenry to a point where democracy was possible, but to believe that is possible requires a blind optimism and a blind eye to reality.

The second problem I have with the analysis is that you conflate "big business" and "the dependent class". I would agree if you meant to imply that big business IS the dependent class, but I don't think that's your point. Our government has not "pandered" to (that is done anything to help) the poor or even to working men and women since the 1960's.

Over the last 30 years particularly, government has assisted in the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of our nation - a transfer from the working and middle classes to the super-rich. Taxes have been irresponsibly cut and with them vital services and infrastructure.

Our government has removed the regulatory burden from Wall Street and allowed them to cook up ponzi schemes and use ordinary people's retirement savings as though they were chips in a casino. Then when those irresponsible risks caused bankruptcy, the government took the people's money and handed it to the gamblers with no strings attached.

Now that we have high unemployment, a decimated industrial base (thanks to "fair trade"), drastic cutbacks in services, a crumbling infrastructure, and 45,000 people dying every year because of a lack of health insurance, we see the same politicians who caused this mess talking about how we need to cut back services even further and how we can't afford to use tax money to create jobs.

We got here because "conservatives" removed regulation, removed the tax rules that inhibited offshoring of profits, wasted billions "privatizing" government services, and promoted a massive exodus of industrial jobs under the guise of so-called free trade. Now instead of fixing the mess they created, they want to stick the ordinary working man and woman with the bill.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Your unending belief in the ability of regulation to solve problems demonstrates that religion has no corner on faith. The old saw that evil conservatives destroyed the marvels of the regulatory state is bizarre in the face of the reality that under the rule of the so-called conservatives, federal regulations expanded at a historically unprecedented rate. Under GWB and the GOP congress, the increase in the size and scope of the regulatory state (including regulations over Wall Street) expanded dramatically each year, only to be outdone by GWB and two years of a Democratic congress.

All the regulations in the world would not have prevented the debacle that was produced by the intertwined interests of big government and big business, as unchanging market forces responded to the perverse incentives produced by policies that pretended that loans could forever be made without any requirement for repayment, all because the once implicit and now explicit promise was the Uncle Sam would save the day once the inevitable occurred.

When I talk about the dependent class, I mean almost all of us. With the exception of a very few, all of us receive or are forced to accept far more government benefits than we could ever hope to pay for in a lifetime. The more we become dependent on government, the more the ruling class controls us.

And yes, I do include big business in the dependent class. Or rather, in the co-dependent class, as it is co-dependent on big government and vice versa. I think that is called Fascism.

The ideal of an educated citizenry that you suggest is a utopian ideal that will never exist in this world. Even if we were not following the Prussian education model that seeks to produce cogs for the wheels of the machinery of state, we would still end up with many sharp disagreements. You may note that even among the best educated there are irreconcilable differences of opinion on many matters. So that democracy always comes down to a game of power, not education.

Those posing as conservatives certainly carry a share of the blame for the current state of affairs. But your myopia that seems to absolve progressives from fault is laughable on its face.