As Americans, we live entrenched in a duplicity of often conflicting ideas of society and government. This is represented in how government is run, with legislation (and therefore law) in its broadest sense being from the start a compromise between different interests. We have all sorts of Socialist influences, from unions to programs, and yet have freedom to pursue one’s fortune, all rolled into one society. Private business thrives and governments get fat off them while (theoretically) keeping them in check. I used to think Conservative and Liberal approaches were merely a matter of method and a different weighing of personal and collective rights, economic and personal. Alas, age lessens naivate, and so I more recently see it as a matter of power.
The primary models by which we see our freedom and prosperity is free market and a government run by the people. Each of these are positive ideals, inextricably tied to their respective opposites — corporate economic oppression and freedom-hindering beurocracy. But ideals don’t make policies or employ people — politicians and business owners do. But more accurately the driving forces are political parties and business sectors.
The Game and Its Players
The question thus far has been who ought we trust more to wield the power. Who is protecting us from whom? This is the defining difference between Left and Right in our time. Do we trust governments to regulate out the evils of corporate entities or make things worse and run our lives? Do we trust the market players to be kept in check by market conditionsin spite of government interference?
From a citizen’s standpoint, we must ask ourselves if our votes or our dollars give us more power to shape the world we want to live in, or even which one SHOULD. That is a matter of preferred viewpoint, though often a highly charged one. However, there is one clear distinction: government is a monopoly. Where dollars (investment and sales) determine the rise and fall of companies, and an upstart that fulfils the customer’s desires will break any stranglehold by existing megacorps, votes only change who is sitting in various chairs over the years, with the power held by the office, not the man.
It doesn’t matter if you make some George or Barack the ‘Employee of the Month’ for four-to-eight years because the product selection is still one choice at any given time, and usually the same choice no matter if the store manager’s vest color is red or blue. More concerning, whatever power we give the man whose ideals we most agree with will be passed to their successor, who we may not agree with at all. Plainly, if we give the government the power to “fix” or regulate something to the point of final authority, they also have the ability to do … well … do anything else with it later on. But even if our preferred party gets voted in all the time, this is too simplistic. Individuals do not and cannot represent a diverse constituency, and often do not represent the majority, even if that were desirable.
One may object to a moral preference for influence through money versus democratic process. But there’s no question that money influences the democratic process itself, so it’s hypocritical to condemn one and not the other. Yes, there is an unending debate about socio-economic inequality that suggests those with money have power over those who don’t in some direct way in the marketplace I haven’t figured out yet. But money does not necessarily mean power (as in control) if one believes individual consumers, however small, have a collective impact greater than the so-called “rich elite”. After all, vilified “greedy rich” exist at the whim of consumers, except in where market choice is hindered.
There are laws against monopolies and trusts … except where the government creates them through selective privatization, stimulus spending, bailouts, and all sorts of other favortism. And so we see the first glimpse of the real problem — and why addressing the evils of Capitalism from within the existing political machine is questionable if not insane altogether.
I think people are looking for a better way — not a better economic system, but a better government system they just aren’t getting through an increasingly dysfunctional republic. The Tea Party crowd doesn’t have a solution, but their sentiment that one cannot wait any longer is that of more and more people every day for just this reason.
Companies rise and fall, shaping and reshaping the market, arguably even more so the other way around. Governments — which we want to see as so-and-so’s “administration” or “congress” to differentiate it from itself in another perceived incarnation — is still by far the same players taking turns at a relatively unchanging game. The DNC or RNC aren’t going bankrupt any time soon, and no one is going to decide we want the Queen of England to take care of our highways if they aren’t paved to our satisfaction, or at a reasonable price.
This is one of the main concerns about drifting into socialism — if an aspect of our lives is government run (be it education, health care, student loans, whatever), we have less or no choice as “consumers”. We can see cases this works and ones it does not — but it is imposing a choice on other people and our descendants. Arguments for government solutions wherever a (perceived) need arises seem to be an elusive “ends justify the means” with euphemistic rallying of ideas like efficiency and fairness, and under the constant guise of a crisis. Even if WERE true that government can serve the people this way, it puts the hope for social justice (by force) above personal freedom of choice (not just economically). Some of us want this; others don’t.
Peeling away one more layer of naivete, we can see that the two families of money and office are partners in crime.
Lobbying and Regulation: Privatized Socialism?
I used to think we were moving toward a unique form of corporate-sponsored Socialism, where the government serves business powers by using legislative authority to nationalize consumerism (with health insurance being the big wake up call to this already existing trend). But after a long discussion with a wise friend late one night, I realized there was always some of this, going back to the trade companies of colonial times and even before. More so, I am reconsidering that even collusion between government and industry not be necessarily corrupt. Yes, all the self-interest ramifications apply to BOTH social structures, and yes, I fear the alliances are becoming more oppressive into some bizarre hybrid of the worst of Socialism and Capitalism. But I also think government working with industry in general can be seen as a cause for American success and prosperity — and certainly not to the few in office or the boardroom, even if they benefit the most. NASA comes to mind, my father being involved with aerospace defense contracting.
So robber barons on one side and Orwell on the other are extremes of imbalance, for sure. My contemplation these days are the implications of the degree to which even a balance can be overbearing on personal freedom. If free will consumerism is thwarted BY government putting its foot down, instead of balance, we get crushed in the middle. We still have breathing space. Because they both need us.
But what I’ve found through researching this recent “reform” obsession of today’s federal government is that free market works better than ever when it ISN’T in bed with government. The HMOs basically WROTE the health care bill, and used government to pass it, creating the market they want independent of consumer interests. And this is where lobbying comes in. Lobbying isn’t evil. People have a right to be collectively represented, and provide information that otherwise would be too lugubrious for legislators to sort through. Heck, they can’t even read their own bills! The problem is funding of the lobbyist, where money talks loudest, and the conflict-of-interest kickbacks of campaign contributions.
Both parties can’t help but represent various industry interests and powerful unions. Represent is too mild a word. The power players in industry and government have become the SAME group of people, and I certainly don’t mean “WE the People”. The battles between them are either token gestures to pacify the masses, or are partisan, where one party attacks the other party’s economic power base, with the rally cry of “reform”. The degree of intermarriage is so great that I have to wonder if even the most involved and well-meaning politicians are no more than pawns stuck between doing the right things and losing their party-business backing.
I myself don’t necessarily “trust” big businesses (or their doppelganger, unions) but I see them as a lesser threat to society when the balance is in their favor (within reason).
However, I now recognize these forces being healthy adversaries is part of an idealistic past that may not have ever existed. National housekeeping (Socialism) will never kill the golden goose of big business, and particular businesses, whole industries, and unions, cannot gain or keep advantage without the assistance of tricky legislation by beholden legislators. Until there is some fundamental ethical reform, they need each other. They may see the other as necessary evils, but very lucrative ones.
In order to see the forest for the trees, we need to rise above the debate of Socialism versus Capitalism. We still live in the semblance of a meritocracy, where a poor man can become wealthy and a man of minority ethnicity can become president. The game is on. We just have to break them up, and stop letting the players be the referees.