Victor Hugo once said, “Emergencies have always been necessary to progress. It was darkness which produced the lamp. It was fog that produced the compass. It was hunger that drove us to exploration. And it took a depression to teach us the real value of a job.”
With that in mind, friends and fellow citizens, let’s talk about our current fiscal and economic matters. And let’s do it like people, like neighbors; not like politicians or those trying to siphon your votes and your livelihood.
Can we agree on a place to start? Let’s stop looking for a scapegoat or somebody to place the blame on each day. Every minute we spend in that vain, futile rut robs us of precious time to put our heads together and run our country, fixing problems along the way. Economic success or misfortune is not the fault of Presidents Obama or Bush alone, nor are they of one specific individual. Calculus is the proper and most constructive place to derive things; not politics or the day-to-day lives of our families.
Policies enacted from the 1960s all the way through to the 2000s by both Democrats and Republicans have influenced our world today. No one change can ever please all of the people, yet some of these policies have had a negative effect on the well-being of the entire public-at-large.
Free-trade legislation and shady deregulation have turned America from a blue-collar workhorse to a consumer society. This has all created a scenario by which corporations were–at best–not penalized for shipping American jobs overseas and–at worst–rewarded for it by their own government. And not only are these corporations shipping individual jobs overseas–they are also taking the entire capital structure with them. This has eroded the American manufacturing and industrial base to the point where very few people in this country can earn an honest paycheck building and making things anymore.
When corporations rob American citizens of jobs and the capacity to build, construct, create and produce, they violate our basic sovereignty as a people. Their success ceases to become an American success, but rather a stateless victory for profit alone. Without jobs–and without a base to create more jobs–our consumer society has eroded over the past few decades to the point where we currently find ourselves–scratching our heads and pointing fingers.
And yet, these same corporations want more power and more influence over our daily lives. It was once remarked that, “All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Partisan decisions by the Supreme Court have allowed monied interests greater power to buy elections and put vast sums of corrupt cash into a political system that has seen more than its fair share of dirty money. And now they and their representatives in government oppose even a minuscule increase in tax or sacrifice to help average American citizens and families get through these tough economic times–they don’t share the sacrifice because their compelling desire is to run up their own treasure chest. This may not reflect villainy on the part of business interests–a cry which discredits level-headed consideration of the issues–but rather simply the “price to play the game” for those engaged in such pursuits.
To compound confusion these days, many of us believe banks and financial institutions are benign institutions where we simply deposit and withdraw our money. In reality, banks in this country are no different than any other business: they exist to create a profit. The difference–and danger–with this set-up is that banks don’t do this with your discretionary income (i.e. like Exxon or Wal Mart do when you buy their products), but with your life savings. For the most part, your finances are protected by the FDIC, but the kicker there is that that entity is funded by taxpayers, too.
This leads to a system where everyone involved tries to one-up everyone else–with your money. You have little say over the direction of this operation, unless you have enough money to buy a place at the table–i.e. unless you can “pay to play.” But how many of us can actually afford to do this? Even in better economic times, folks in the middle class are busy saving for retirement and their kids’ school supplies instead of competing with the financial might of BP or Monsanto, among thousands of others. And how can we? The top 10% of the population control 75% of our country’s wealth (you only qualify for the top 10% if you make more than $1 million each year). These folks–whether they know it or not–are putting a price tag on the ability of citizens to exercise their Constitutionally- and God-given rights.
Thus, the frequently-used conservative arguments that privatization and the “free market” are the surest guarantors of fairness, economic justice and proper representation of the public trust are wrong, in many cases. Not in every case–this country is not best governed by extremes–but those which hold truest to what is explicitly spelled out in the very beginning of our Constitution: “Establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Those measures, of course, are the basis for rigorous debate in our country, but they are never immoral or wasteful; each American generation should, of a right, endeavor towards “a more perfect Union.”
After the Civil War, and thanks to the leadership of men like President Theodore Roosevelt, citizens attempted to wrest control of government from the clutches of powerful business and money interests. Where these attempts failed–and common-sense regulation was scaled back–families struggling to get by were laid bare before the harsh cyclical realities of the market. Recessions and even a Great Depression unfortunately ensued.
These realities are the same today: without stability in the marketplace–with speculation and risk running rampant–a family saving for a child’s college education, retirement or their own mortgage could see those hard-earned funds evaporate in the blink of an eye. Policies which favor profit over real people are hardly justice; they are counter to the very values which are written in our Constitution.
Fast-forward to today: as sometimes happens in the life of an economy, growth has slowed. We’ve already discussed that anti-job policies have decreased the base from which new jobs might grow and have seriously hampered our ability to recover; these opportunities, along with the profit that businesses reap from them, exist overseas in places like China and India, among others. Jobs aren’t appearing in the private sector–not because businesses can’t afford them–but because the framework for them hardly exists here anymore.
Even worse, another influx of speculation and risk has brought middle class families to their knees. Once again, calculus-reminiscent “derivatives” and roulette-playing with household mortgages leave us crippled and vulnerable. These “free market” policies created incredible loss; yet what do many now advocate? Greater “freedom” for those peculiar interests. The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again, and expecting a different result. We should n
ot be fooled so easily again.
And yet, we’re playing the same high-risk game of chicken with the future of our children and our very existence as a country. Some–nearly all Republicans in Congress–seem to believe that choosing not to increase the so-called “debt ceiling” will somehow better our fiscal standing. Here, we are simply losing to a game of syntax–with potentially disastrous results.
The debt ceiling–and the act of raising it each year–is essentially our country’s way of paying its credit card on time. The Republican argument is that, if we don’t raise it, we’ll be better off. This could not be farther from–and more dangerous to–the truth. That would be like saying, “I’ll save money this month by not paying my credit card bill.” Anyone who has credit card trouble will tell you that this action leads to delinquencies, collection agencies, decreased credit ratings, higher interest rates and bankruptcy. For the United States to allow that to happen wouldn’t save any money–it would bankrupt the middle class and set us back over a century.
When Republicans tell you that they won’t raise the debt ceiling, they are telling you that they don’t care about you or your family–they would rather you starve, so that they can gain political power and stay in office. This is playing politics with our daily bread, and it is a deplorable act rarely seen even in the annals of the most corrupt Congresses.
We all want a responsible, accountable government. We all want to do away with waste, and fraud; both parties, all Americans. So when we are looking for areas to save money, why do our Representatives–again, mostly Republicans in Congress–only want to cut from the areas which help middle-class Americans? Why do they only focus on the 16% of the budget that is “non-defense discretionary spending?”
Small cuts must be had from every area of the budget, and shared sacrifice should be allowed from all Americans–including those to which “much has been given.” This includes small percentage cuts from defense spending (which is nearly universally panned as unnecessarily bloated) and entitlements in such a way that don’t put our grandparents and underprivileged on the chopping block. It also includes allowing the Bush and Obama tax cuts to simply expire (they were never meant to be permanent) and simply allowing the tax rates on those earning over $250,000 per year to return to their Clinton-era rates (we’re talking about 4 percentage points here–completely within the realm of reasonability as they were once 40 percentage points higher).
By only cutting discretionary spending, especially in areas like education and infrastructure, we allow ourselves to fall prey to even worse economic downturns in the future–less educated children will require more training for the same jobs, won’t be able to create more jobs–much less better ones–and will see the same unforutunate trends in unemployment and prosperity that plague us today.
As Americans, we hold sacred the belief that our children should be better off than us; wholesale cuts to education and quality of life would directly violate that sacred birthright. They are contrary to everything we believe in; yet some of our elected officials are trying to persuade us otherwise. We cannot allow ourselves to become accomplices to that sort of corruption.
We can take solace in the notion that the United States of America has held a public debt for the entirety of her existence. We can be confident in our ability to run our own finances without destroying ourselves in the process. Indeed, the 14th Amendment to our Constitution reflects and protects this with the force of law: “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law…shall not be questioned.” All that is left to be mentioned is a reminder from our past: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Let the discussion continue. Let families come together around the dinner table and soccer games. Let the debate over how best to effect a more perfect Union rave from sea to shining sea. But don’t allow anyone–especially not Congress–to take away our daily bread and with it, the future of our proud country.
(Originally posted at The Journeying Progressive.)