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THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT – A CRITIQUE

November 5, 2015

THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT – A CRITIQUE

In jurisdictions where school boards still permit teaching of Civics in public schools students are taught that the purpose of government is to come together to do things collectively we cannot do individually, like building roads, educating the young, defending our nation, maintaining law and order and the like. Doing such things costs money, so we tax those who live here and those who may not live here but do business here for such benefits conferred upon them. Such benefits also include but are certainly not limited to interstate highways, police and fire protection, electrical grids, patent and copyright laws to protect and encourage innovation etc. etc. etc., all  thought necessary to the smooth functioning of a modern society. Most citizens agree that taxes must be paid for such services, though there may be arguments among such citizens as to costs and whether particular projects or programs are necessary.

So far, so good, but it seems to me that the political problems of today (either real or manufactured for political gain) arise from what GeorgeLakoff calls “nurturing” by government, such nurturing as provision of opportunity, aid to education, healthcare, food and other social programs for the poor, unemployed and disabled.  We know we need roads and electricity but (in a bow to Social Darwinism) some insist that the poor and disadvantaged should be on their own and not “sucking us dry” with welfare. We are not “our brother’s keeper” and we are not “all in this together.” There are winners and losers; it’s a “survival of the fittest” real world. Neither we nor I owe anything to anybody. Get out of my way, loser!

Variously described as “welfare queens” (per Reagan) and “47 percenters” (per Romney), these people should not depend upon government to meet their needs. They must show some responsibility about how they provide for their own needs and how they live their lives, the argument goes. Parenthetically, I note here that many of the people making such myopic arguments were born on third base and have never stood at home plate with a broken leg and a two strike count.  Guess who is more likely to score in life, those born on third base with an Ivy League education guaranteed by a legacy of riches if not merit (such as George Bush), or those still at home plate with two strikes and a broken leg who are products of slum schools and poverty environments? We know the answer but some cannot agree on how to level the playing field or even why it should be leveled due to an elitist sense of superiority, a determination to maintain power and, of course, greed. They have never been in a slum, much less raised in one.

So what do such Social Darwinists propose we do with “these people” beyond recruiting them for service in the military in order to protect the interests of the rich here and abroad and, incidentally and in tandem, keep the “defense” trough of appropriated funds flowing to wealthy flag-waving “defense contractors,” contractors whose children cannot be drafted to fight for America?

Increasingly, only the poor are involved in fighting for the “American way of life.” Recruiting people from gated communities to fight for America yields poor results; they have better things to do. Thus fighting for the “American way of life” is now almost exclusively reserved for those who have never experienced such a “way of life,” thanks to the machinations of politicians who embrace policies that deny opportunity to such slum-dwellers  while growing up and then sending such poor recruits overseas to kill and be killed in protecting the interests of the rich and on behalf of an announced “way of life” that was never available to such soldiers while growing up in the slums and one which will likely be unavailable to them upon their return as veterans, if they return, as we’ve seen in recent scandal-plagued VA reports.

Ancillary problems arise when government undertakes to establish standards of conduct in corporate governance, debt and equity markets and other such financial groupings within our economy, thought by Wall Street banks and corporations to be overregulation of private enterprise (even though we have all seen the financial chaos both here and overseas that under-regulation can bring and has brought to the fore from our first “panic” through the Great Depression to Bush’s Great Recession, the latter from which the banks, the Dow and corporate America have recovered and are thriving but from which we in the real economy have still not recovered due to wage inequality and political hostility toward labor).

Given such a background for prognostication where the rich do not want to pay taxes for anything but what they consider the “basics”, especially “defense,” while ignoring the fact that the banks and corporations they own and/or manage gather in far more “corporate welfare” from government in the form of giveaway interest rates, tax breaks, bargaining rights for profits held overseas, bankruptcy protection and bailout protection by taxpayers for deals gone sour than the hapless citizens in need of food and medical care, it was inevitable that today’s crop of libertarian/nihilist candidates pretending to be Republicans should appear to guide us into our bleak and uncaring Social Darwinist future.

We have such libertarian/nihilist candidates and pretenders to the throne as Paul and Cruz spouting out 19th century Gilded Age practices and John Wayne “take no prisoners” economics of the frontier as gospel, a Trump who says we should elect him because he is a successful businessman (we tried that with George Bush, and with catastrophic results), a sticky-fingered Rubio who used thousands in campaign money for personal expenses here in Florida (a practice we used to call stealing), a medical doctor who should be elected because he is a nice guy (though totally inexperienced in political and economic arts), and various other candidates who parade their successes and good intentions before America while trying and failing to cover their sick egos and lusts for power in their verbal brawls with one another.

However, though a disparate group they all agree on one thing: the rich should get richer and the poor should get poorer. This can be accomplished by the adoption of policies removing healthcare for the masses, a possible FEDERAL right to work law, continuing wage and wealth inequality, less regulation of businesses and especially big Wall Street banks, abolition of the Department of Education and the Environment Protection Agency (among others), substantial reductions in costs for social services,  substantial cuts  in taxes to corporations in the internal revenue code or even its repeal accompanied by passage of a new tax law establishing a so-called “flat tax,” and, of course, a continuation of austerity as policy in budgeting as they choose debt payment fetish over debt-reducing expansion of the economy.

While listening to these candidates on the debate stage when they are discussing substantive issues (a rare event in itself), I get a strong feeling that they are debating 21st century problems with 19th century views, Gilded Age views of an 1885 American economy long since outmoded, hoary views which are restrictive of the aims and purposes of modern government in caring for all of its citizens rather than merely serving as a vehicle to foster the financial interests of certain sectors of its economy.

These candidates need to glance up from their greed book and look around; the world has changed, and so should our own perspectives change in determining the role of government in our lives and that of our people as an interconnected world continues to change. We will need new weapons as new challenges present themselves, but one bedrock principle must remain intact, and it is this: that government operates on behalf of ALL of its citizens, whoever and wherever they may be. That encapsulates the essence of democracy, our most precious asset. Everything else is negotiable.   GERALD    E

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