Photo via politicaljib.com
Editor’s note:This post was guest blogged by Dan Tanner of dan-ruth-tanner.com
In the USA, politics is only window-dressing. That is because, unlike in Europe, each political party is associated with only one economic system: capitalism. The only difference between the Republicans (the party of Greed) and Democrats (the party of Envy) is who should principally benefit from that economic system. Greed says it should be the wealthy and corporations, Envy says it should be organized labor (and lately, the middle class). Both Greed and Envy would throw a boon to the poor; Greed would call for private charity to handle it and Envy would use government largesse.
In the USA, we have a strange system that provides great governmental stability but at the price of inflexibility. Because Congressional terms are 2 years (staggered among equal thirds of the membership) in the House of Representatives and 6 years in the Senate (also staggered among the membership) and separately by electoral â€“ not popular â€“ vote every 4 years for President, it is impossible to turn government over entirely to one party in a single election, and nearly impossible to do so even in the span of two or more elections. Moreover, the doctrine of 3 co-equal branches of government (Legislative, Administrative, and Judicial) means that we have nothing like a no-confidence process, and the impeachment process is cumbersome and rarely used, and some argue, not correct to settle purely political questions. (Impeachment may be political in nature, but carries no criminal sanctions but only removal from office and is supposed to be used only for â€œhigh crimes and misdemeanorsâ€.)
But stable one-party rule inevitably leads at least to excess and usually also to corruption. Under capitalism, the Greed party always rejects regulation, allowing robber-barons to get rich quickly and easily in a wild-west atmosphere. But unregulated capitalism does not work â€“ it carries with the seeds of its own destruction through pursuit of greed.
Historically, every time the Greed party has been in power for a long time, it builds a house of cards based on speculation that nears collapse and the Envy party must come to power and â€“ as is its wont â€“ implement some regulation. In the process, it rescues capitalism. Franklin D. Roosevelt did that in 1932 after unregulated stock markets crashed and unregulated banks failed. We have as FDRâ€™s legacy a Security Exchange Commission (SEC) and a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to regulate, respectively, the stock market and banks. The Greed party thinks it reviles FDR, but the communists hate him far more because he rescued capitalism from the collapse that that Karl Marx called â€œthe dialecticâ€.
After the Envy party runs its course in power and looses its luster because of inevitable corruption, etc, the US electorate, fickle as ever, swings back to put Greed back into power. Under Reagan (Greed party) banks and thrift institutions (savings and loans, mutual savings banks) were lumped together and deregulated. The result was disaster that should have easily been predictable: the S&L scandal erupted because the thrifts had to compete with commercial banks, but could do so with government insured funds!
To this day, deregulated thrifts no longer offer long-term (30-year) fixed-rate mortgage loans. No commercial company in the USA does, because 30-years is far too long a term to lock in an interest rate. So, during the Regan administration, Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae were created by government to buy mortgage loans for 30-year terms. This was an historic change. When my wife and I bought our house on a 30-year fixed-term mortgage we went to the local savings bank and that is where we got our mortgage. Sixteen years later when we paid it off (we were thrifty and made accelerated payments on the principal) we went to see the same loan officer at the same desk at the same savings bank to do it. That is no longer possible. When you get a 30-year fixed-term mortgage (or, nowadays nearly any other type of mortgage) you go through a broker who places the loan with a bank or a mortgage company or God knows who, and that loan is quickly sold. It is sold as part of a â€œbagâ€ of mortgage-backed securities.
This whole apparatus operates outside of any regulation. The game quickly became to issue bad loans and quickly pass them on â€“ inside a bag that defies inspection â€“ to the next sucker up the line.
Now history must make a turn. The Envy party â€“ which favors regulated markets â€“ must come to power to correct the excesses allowed during Greedâ€™s turn.
Will this happen? Can it happen? I wonder. I fear that there is enough racism in the US to enable Greed to cling to power.
Capitalism is a lousy system, but it is probably still the best economic system that mankind can devise. And it can work if properly regulated (but even regulators can be come corrupt; weâ€™re all only human). And democracy is a lousy system but also probably the best we can come up with. But democracy requires a fair, intelligent and informed electorate (not one that will simply favor the party whose VP candidate has a hot body â€“ but remember that women voted for the â€œcuteâ€ JFK), and the US democracy has been thoroughly given over to the donor class. Anyone elected to office lets the lobbyists write legislation while he or she spends all of his or her time doing nothing but raising enough money to run for reelection. The donor class prefers it that way because it allows only them to determine the electorateâ€™s choices, and often as not, to totally own those who gain elected office. This is true of both Envy and Greed party officeholders.
If the electorate comes to its senses and grasps whatâ€™s at stake â€“ saving capitalism, which will surely collapse if the present Greed policies continue, it will elect Envy this time around, both for the Presidency and with enough of a majority in Congress to make governing possible. In 2006 it came to its senses (Iraq was the issue), but could only elect an Envy majority that was so slim that only stalemate between President and Congress (and due to rules, often even between the parties in Congress itself), not real governing, was possible.
The joker in the deck is the power of the Military-Industrial Complex. Usually Greed does not want to control the MIC and Envy wants to but canâ€™t, because the MIC not only enriches the wealthy and large corporations but also provides a huge slice of employment in virtually every congressional district.
I wonâ€™t be voting. Thatâ€™s because I live in Massachusetts. It is a foregone conclusion that Envy will win the electors and that the electorate will return all of the Envy incumbents (many running unopposed) to Congress.
Instead I will observe â€“ fearfully. First that racism will cause Envy (which historically needs to win) to lose. If Greed wins, things get worse. And even if Envy should manage to win, the patient may be too sick to save.
I agree with most of your comments. I did want to address them separately. With regards to your analysis of the parties, I find them to be quite accurate. I do not believe however, it is going to make much of a difference who ends up in the White House – I believe the system is too far gone to be fixed. Both parties are going to lead to bigger government, greater deficits, and continued dissatisfaction. One party will bring this about through war and empire building, the other party through continued entitlements and socialistic programs. This is, in my mind, an election of two evils and each individual must decide for themselves which is the lesser of the two evils. While I will vote, because I believe that every vote does count, I can’t help wonder if I really have any choice at all – why do I have to choose from only two (or three candidates if you count the libertarian party) candidates? Why is someone like Ron Paul considered a quack rather than an legitimate alternative to the current candidates that agree more than they disagree?
I also agree that there are still too many “ism’s” that will determine the outcome of this election – racism, feminism, and ageism. When a majority of the people are asked about why they are going to vote for a particular candidate, the reasons given to not have much depth and usually lack broad principles that would allow them to vote across party lines depending on which candidate follows those principles. I see this election being run like a promotion for a movie, not a lot of facts but a lot of “one liners” designed to get people emotionally motivated to vote for a particular candidate. There are many complaints about the candidates not sharing a lot of details about their plans, yet when they share the details, there is no media coverage, people get bored, they no longer want to go to the rally’s. Ron Paul (I should note that I am a strong supporter of Ron Paul) did share particular details about how he would reduce the size of government, stop this empire building, reduce governments intrusion into our lives and give us back some of the liberties that have been lost under the guise of “protecting” our freedom. He was not invited to many debates and a significant number of Americans still do not know who he is YET he stands for what Americans say they want. He is willing to admit that our economic system is broken and that the United States is essentially broke which brings me to capitalism.
I do believe that capitalism is the best system that we could have come up with and I don’t think capitalism itself is the problem, it is the excessive government regulation of capitalism that causes the issues. Let’s take ethanol as a case in point – Brazil produces ethanol from sugar can and is willing to sell it to us, yet we prevent this from happening by providing subsidies to farmers who produce ethanol from corn and placing heavy tariffs on the ethanol from Brazil making it cost prohibitive. Why all the regulation? Farmers in the United States will produce according to where they can make the most profit, why subsidize therefore skewing the natural capitalistic process? Capitalism mandates that if someone is selling a product, in order to capitalize you have to figure a way to make the product better and sell it cheaper. This brings about innovation. Capitalism as well has been tied to greed which is not necessarily so, as Ayn Rand points out in her book Atlas Shrugged, it must also be accompanied by a sense of doing your best and being your best at all times, not trying to take advantage of a system. There are those who say that capitalism is the reason that so many American jobs have gone oversees, I disagree, I think it is lack of innovation with regards to how to keep the jobs here that have caused jobs to go oversees. In addition, the idea that people have to work for someone else to sustain themselves and the lack of support (from regular people) for small businesses that have caused jobs to go oversees. Government greed and over regulation is what has perverted capitalism. A couple of months ago, I decided that I would buy a piece of land next to an investment property I own, the lot of land is too small to build a house on so I thought to excavate the land and begin a community garden. As I am aware, you just can’t do anything without calling someone so I called the city government, I was told that I would not be able to grow fruits and vegetables on that plot of land because it was too small to be zoned for that purpose. I would also not be able to give away the fruit because fruit grown on land for non commercial purposes must be eaten by the people who live in a house on the land. The land, he mentioned to me, could not support a house. So I asked what could be done with the land and I was told nothing. In the end, the city would rather an empty plot of land with beer bottles and dirt and the city would also rather give out food stamps then provide a way for the people of the community to have pride in themselves and learn some skills that would allow them to sustain themselves. While I had no intention of selling the fruit, if I did have that intention, my capitalistic intentions (while good for the community) were thwarted by excessive regulation. I dropped the project. This is an experience that I have had on a good number of occasions as I often have ideas about how I can help people. Sometimes I fight the battle, go through all the paperwork and spend the money that they want me to spend but them I find myself filing paperwork and maintaining records (again, part of the regulations) rather than doing what I originally intended.
Capitalism has also been perverted by excessive taxation, it seems at times that the government is trying to capitalize off of the people. The idea in the United States is that you should strive to “earn” more so that you can achieve the American dream. The problem with that idea is that the more you “earn”, the more you are taxed and the harder you have to work. American’s are constantly subject to double, triple taxation, we must pay federal income taxes, property taxes, state income taxes, social security tax and sales tax on every thing that we buy. By the time you factor in all of the different taxes, someone who makes $50,000 a year really has the spending power of $30,000. This information is not readily shared with the average person before they enter the job market, I can tell you I was shocked when I received my first paycheck (as a result, I had a long conversation with my daughter about the real economics of a salary, poor soul was shocked). You then get caught in a rat race, get a bigger house, make more money, pay more taxes, I call it the economic shackles. This is capitalism – the government capitalizing on its people. I don’t even understand sometimes why this is, does no one remember that the Boston Tea Party was about taxes? The reason for the American Revolution in part was because of the excessive tax burden placed on the colonists by the British.
To end, with this election the choice I see is that one party “Envy” will probably slow down the inevitable collapse of the empire but it will collapse, the end and beginning has always been because of economics and revolution comes as a result. Given that I see this outcome is going to come to pass in my lifetime and come very shortly, I will vote for “Envy” in order to have a little more time to prepare.
I wish to thank Chris for graciously running my long opinion piece. And also to thank you, Suki, for reading it and for writing such a lengthy reply.
Suki, I think that we agree on a point that I was making, namely, that we both fear that so much money is involved in US politics that the system is too far gone to save.
But also, I sense that you are probably much younger than me. I am not saying that the older are always wiser, but only that your exposure to Libertarianism lacks the perspective to realize that most Libertarians are either total anarchists (like biker gang members) or laissez faire Republicans (like Ron Paul).
It is human nature to want something for nothing or an unfair advantage. Until 1932, it was normal and not unlawful for robber baron laissez faire big wealthy stock market investors to operate using inside information and to manipulate stock prices from behind the schemes. That is what made the market crash, their excess of greed.
Greed is part of human nature. But now the stock market is regulated (and the money has moved to the unregulated mortgage securities, which are now crashing). Everyone wants an inside stock tip, but nobody wants others to have the same tip. So we all agree to have the market regulated, so that the playing field is level and fair to all, big and small investors alike.
A Libertarian would argue that it is none of the government’s business to regulate the market. Also, that the government has no business taxing everyone to provide clean water, hospitals, schools, and even national defense unless it can somehow do so without taking anything from anyone, not their money, not their land, not by placing any restrictions on their actions, and not by compelling them to do anything. That is what they call Libertarianism, but it is actually nihilism and a recipe for anarchy and the total breakdown of society.
We are, of course, responsible for ourselves and our families, but we also have some responsibility (less, but still some), to our village. We are all, at least in part, our brothers’ keepers.
Let me give you a personal example. I used to work with a man who called himself a Libertarian. I asked him about riparian rights (which are so old and well established that they are actually spelled out in the Old Testament). He had no idea what I was talking about. Riparian rights are this: Say you own a piece of land that a stream runs through, and that the stream is the only local source of drinking water. You have a neighbor, or perhaps even a village of neighbors, who live on land downstream from yours. The Bible says that you may not allow your cattle to water by wading into the stream, because that will foul the water for those downstream. You must instead draw some of the water, only a fair share necessary for your cattle, and fill troughs for them to drink from, so that the stream will not be fouled for others.
Even after I explained that, and showed it to him in a Bible (which provides a very good basis for some of our laws to this day), he argued that he would hold to his Libertarian principles and do any damned thing he wanted to do with his stream running through his property. He could not even be swayed when I inquired of him how he would feel if a new neighbor upstream from him took the Libertarian position and fouled the water for him. He instead said that he would simply move upstream of the new neighbor! (I wonder what happens at the end-game. Perhaps the source is a spring — unless someone with a mine fouls the groundwater source. Or perhaps the source are clouds and leaves and rain-forest that nobody can own; what then?)
So, I repeat. Without regulatory controls (and keeping the regulators honest, not easy task, and one that has often failed in the US!) capitalism inevitably collapses under the weight of greed. With proper regulation, and absent corruption, there is no better system than economic capitalism. Libertarianism is only a euphemism for unregulated capitalism, and cannot work. It is anarchy with extreme wealth for a lawless few who survive at the top until they’re knocked off.
Good day Dan,
My idealism and youth clearly shine through 🙂 While I do believe in libertarian principles I do understand and believe that we are all on this earth together so that if I were to sully the water that others needed to use, I would be infringing on their right to life and liberty. If I truly believe in those ideals then morally I can not choose to have my cattle cause them harm. Thank you for pointing out what is true that while my vision and that of many libertarians is idealistic, it is probably not realistic given human nature. As a self-regulating individual, I have not wanted or needed anyone to tell me not to harm my fellow man nor to tell me to give as much as I can of myself to my fellow man. As a philosophical principle, I try not to take more than I need (not even at the buffets that are prevalent down South) and have no desire to hoard money or resources. At times, (and this is reflected in my writing) I forget that this is not typical and people in fact do need rules and regulations, what I do see though is that even with all the rules and regulations, greed seems to find a way to rear its ugly head over and over again – even in the face of destruction. The only conclusion that I can draw is that something is wrong with our system of rules and regulations – perhaps the country is too big? How can someone in Maine understand some of the nuances of living in the South (and visa versa) yet we must follow the same federal “rules”. Instead of specific rules designed to cover each particular situation, we should perhaps develop a system of principles so that in principle, I can not sully the water that services the whole village nor can I burn garbage and affect the quality of air in the village. Our constitution did start off as a document of mainly principles and then rules got in the way.
I do, by the way Dan, believe that with age and experience comes wisdom, not always, but quite often. No one wants anarchy but then we must be saying that no one wants total freedom either. If that is so, then perhaps we should not be so judgmental of other societies and cultures that have their own brand of “rules” whether religious based “rules” or societal based “rules”. If the “rules” are necessary, and perhaps they are for a majority of people, then what does it matter what forms the basis of these “rules”? I bring this up because you mentioned one of the governmental functions and reasons for taxation which is to “defend” ourselves. Yet I hear over and over again that we are in the midst of fighting for our “freedom” and the “freedom” of others. Who are we to decide what their “freedom” must look like? The principle to levy taxes again has been perverted. If someone were to enter my home I would defend myself and my family to the end, if someone were to enter the shores of the United States in an effort to subvert the people of the United States I would take up arms and fight with my fellow citizens – the principle remains the same. What we have now, however, are not principles but rather “rules”, “laws”, and “regulations”. It is interesting that you note that some libertarian ideas may bring anarchy because I believe that our current system of rules will bring anarchy. If we were to suppose for a moment that both paths lead to anarchy then I must admit I stand on the side of Patrick Henry, give me liberty or give me death! (Sigh, there goes my youth rearing its head again :grin:)
On a completely side and unrelated note, I would like to thank you, Chris, Danielle and all the participants in this blog for providing stimulating thought and conversation – a little earlier this year I was part of a brain trust that was fun but time consuming so I could no longer participate, I am glad to have found this online brain trust and thank all its participants.
Suki K Tranqille
Suki, think about these things, please:
1. Ron Paul says he’s a Libertarian, but he is a member of the Republican party. He runs for office under its rules and uses its campaign funds, etc.
2. “Libertarian Principles” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Libertarians say that it is each person for himself and government can’t impose and collect taxes or make or enforce rules. That means there can be no government, and it’s the wild, wild West! It also means that there can be no party to have a platform or rules by which its members must abide. There is no such thing, in reality, as an effective Libertarian Party, and can’t be. There can only be occasional wing-nut candidates calling themselves Libertarians.
3. How would you feel if there were a Libertarian victory in American politics and all taxes and government functions were eliminated (as they would have to be because nobody would pay taxes to support them)? No schools. No hospitals. No sanitation. No armed forces. As the late and great Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr said “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”
4. And a followup to #3 above: How would you feel if under those conditions America somehow was surviving and a hurricane devastated Dominica and a member of Congress proposed a very small tax that must be paid by everyone (there are 300 million of us) be levied for necessary disaster relief to be sent to Dominica — and 299 million out of the 300 million as Libertarians refused to pay the tax?
Suki, some philosophical positions are neat to consider, but those idealistic positions; libertarianism, Utopian dreams, pacifism, and so on simply do not work in the real world. I can’t say what will work. Nobody can, because this ti true and can be said: The only perfect system for human society would have to be one that works independently of human nature. Clearly, that can never be. That is why I belong to no party (a party can only be right occasionally), religion, etc. That may be true Libertarianism — freedom to think as one will.
Also, consider the US Declaration of Independence, which self-proclaimed Libertarians erroneously cite as the basis for their “no government” cries. The Declaration in its text calls for government and explicitly states why governments exist. And it calls for government by the consent of the governed.
Thanks for putting them in order, I will respond in kind.
1. Agreed, to this I can only say that often you can effect change from within. In addition, if you don’t understand how the system works, how can you decide whether or not you agree?
2. Again – agreed. It is okay to be a libertarian or more correctly believe in some of the libertarian principles but to have or be a part of a libertarian party is a contradiction. Like you, I do not “belong” to any party but support individual candidates. I have been listed as an independent for almost as long as I have been voting.
3. No schools – I have no problem with that because I do not believe that there would be no schools, there would be community based schools and a lot of home schooling. I don’t subscribe to forced schooling for the very reason that the system is not designed for everyone to succeed. Those who are able to learn in a group environment with minimal individual instruction do well and those who find that difficult do not do as well. The number of people in the United States that are functionally illiterate does not speak positively about our current system. No hospitals – again, I doubt that, as it stands hospitals are not for profit corporate entities, they receive government grants for research at times but they get their money from the services they provide and charge our health insurance providers, not the government. No sanitation – I live in a community where I pay for the service monthly, again I have no problem with that, I know exactly what I am paying for. My favorite – no armed forces – Dominica does not have a standing army and that is precisely one of the reasons the country made it on my short list of places to relocate. If someone comes ashore threatening the US, I don’t believe that we would have a shortage of people willing to fight.
4. I would be fine with that because I believe and have seen first hand the generosity of people without a forced taxation, whenever there is any disaster Americans reach deep into their pockets and they help. Immediately after Hurricane Katrina, my husband and I contacted all the local churches in our area to ask if any members of their various congregations would be willing to donate items and we would drive them down to New Orleans ourselves. A good number said no but a good number also said yes, we had so many items packed into the rented van that the van was dragging on the floor and we just didn’t know if it was going to make the trip from New York to New Orleans. After an incredible adventure where we were told that we might be arrested if we ventured into the Hurricane Zone, we made it to Biloxi, MS (no one was allowed into New Orleans at the time) with no gas left in our tank. When we arrived at the local Church of Christ, the first thing that the people took was the bag of coffee, all we heard was that the goods and food that the government promised were slow in coming, the Red Cross was not around as promised and the only food and clothing the people received were from people like us who made the trip. When disaster strikes, people rise to the occasion, not everyone but enough of us.
“The only perfect system for human society would have to be one that works independently of human nature.”
This is without a doubt true, I would only add that in the meantime we should not give up our pursuit of the perfect system.
Suki K Tranqille
Suki, I don’t think that you grasp what I have been writing. Or perhaps I think more in the abstract than most.
Every person, Libertarian or otherwise thinks that he or she will always do what is right. That is even true of nazis, terrorists, klansmen, etc. But if you consider the scope of things you should be quick to realize that Libertarianism an democracy are incompatible because in a democracy people must agree to majority rule. Anarchy results is every person is free to say “the rules do not apply to me”.
If you really think that voluntary charity works, I suggest that you look up the “tragedy of the commons” on the Web.
This is my final comment in this thread. Thank you all.
Perhaps I do not understand – wouldn’t the majority believe they are “right” as well? I do believe the basic goodness of man as well as the idea that man is generally capable of governing themselves – do I need a law to let me know that it is wrong to kill? Do I need a rule to tell me it is wrong to walk by someone on the street who has just been hurt? Do I need a law to go over to my neighbor’s house to help if I see a fire burning in the back of their house? The principle here is no different than raising children – with some exceptions of course, they will follow the course of their parents, therefore it is important as a parent to not just speak the message but the BE the message, at some point we must let the children go and experience life for themselves. If we do not, we begin to be the child’s crutch. At some point we must trust that they no longer need our rules to know how to conduct themselves. Why are adults any different, the rules have been around for long enough for us to know how to conduct ourselves. How can we grow, and yes even risk anarchy, without even giving true freedom a chance? As always, this is just a thought.
Suki K Tranqille
Thanks for elaborate article n this subject.
I agree with most of your points. But I would like say one thing here that neither capitalism nor socialism is going to solve the economical problem of the Us or the world as such. The system of economy which is based on credited and interest is bond fail sooner or latter. The bail out measure and other such measure of help is not going to stand long. We policy maker and economist thinker must visualize and correct their system of economic policy taking lesson from history.
The main thing is the greed and selfishness which if left unharnessed grow to and endless limit.
At the same time lack of justice at all levels of governance has also escalated this economical cricis through out the world.
owe must amend our ways other wise we heading towards another world war.
Thank you Dennis for reading my long opinion piece. You write that neither socialism nor capitalism will solve the world’s political/economic/social problems. Quite right, as I comment in replies to the column — any successful solution would have to be independent of human nature. Not even religion can solve the problems, because all religions are only mankind’s creations.
There’s an old curse that goes “May you live in interesting times.” We live in interesting times.
I’m writing this reply the day before the 2008 US election. I will change one thing in my original piece: I will vote. Although Obama is certain to win in Massachusetts, I want to be able to tell children someday that I voted for Barak Obama in this historic election.
I believe that Obama will win. Thanks again.