Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Never mind the facts (Obama did not invent the progressive income tax.) Never mind an opportunity to have an intelligent debate over the role of government in our lives and our economy. What is capitalism? What is socialism? Can the two co-exist? Do they already? Was the New Deal an attempt to emasculate the free market and turn the American Dream into a Nightmare of Mediocrity? Or were the "socialist" CCC , WPA and PWA & crucial to giving hard working Americans the foundation upon which to build American Dreams? These are not questions for elite pencil necked geeks. These are questions for the Rust Belt. These are questions for immigrant laborers. These are questions for small business owners and CEO's. These are the kinds of questions that workers, industrialists, political thinkers, philosophers, dictators, presidents, teachers and students the world over have been wrestling with since the industrial revolution. The answers are debatable. But not today, not in the United States. There is no room for intelligent debate. There is only room and time for propaganda.
Some of the fault certainly lies with Fox, MSNBC, CNN and the absurdly useless local news broadcasts - all guided by the tunnel vision of advertising sales. But most of the blame lies with the American people. We have allowed our educational system to become little more than a means to economic success - knowledge is only an occasionally useful byproduct on the road to individual wealth. College is for most the 13 th , 14 th , 15 th and 16 th grades required before graduating to a well paid job. Unless there is a direct and obvious connection to wealth; & the process of formulating questions, seeking answers & and challenging received information has been deemed superfluous.
The current economic crisis has been roundly referred to as a once in a lifetime event. Decisions that will long affect the future of our country must at this moment be weighed, debated and acted upon. Most Americans will simply watch from the sideline, unable to meaningfully engage in the issues. Or worse, we will simply continue to swallow the easy logic of bumper sticker propaganda: Socialism - Bad / Capitalism - Good. Nuance is dead. Bill O'Reilly, Keith Olberman, Drudge and Huffington relentlessly driving a stake into the heart of reasoned debate.
Particularly noxious in this debate is the notion that the United States has been built upon entirely free markets, that we exist in Ayn Rand's dream laissez faire state; where "every man is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life." The reality is closer to Albert Einstein's view that "The time --which, looking back seems so idyllic -- is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption."
Alan Greenspan looked sadly flabbergasted in his recent testimony before Congress on the economic collapse, forced to admit the failure of his forty-year adherence to Ayn Rand's free market dogma:
REP. HENRY WAXMAN : In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working?
ALAN GREENSPAN : That is -- precisely. No, that's precisely the reason I was shocked, because I had been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well....I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interest of organizations, specifically banks and others, was such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and the equity.
The American free market system is not dead, but change is coming. The Either/Or, Good/Bad, Black/White climate of poltical, social and economic debate in our country benefits no one.
Our banks have been partially nationalized. Is this socialism? California tax payers support our poor brothers and sisters in Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia and the list goes on....Is this socialism? We have given up Civil Liberties and allowed torture in the name of National Security. Socialism? & Our utilities are government-licensed monopolies. Socialism? We are forced to pay taxes for schools and roads we might not use. Socialism? There is no clear and bright delineation separating individual liberty and the common good. But the knee-jerk demonization of occasionally opting in favor of the common good is mindless and more than a little harmful.