The End of New Deal Liberalism

Good question, have we completely surrendered the ship to corporations and the wealthy? The Nation offers a really relevant piece on that:

We have reached a pivotal moment in government and politics, and it feels like the last, groaning spasms of New Deal liberalism. When the party of activist government, faced with an epic crisis, will not use government's extensive powers to reverse the economic disorders and heal deepening social deterioration, then it must be the end of the line for the governing ideology inherited from Roosevelt, Truman and Johnson.

Political events of the past two years have delivered a more profound and devastating message: American democracy has been conclusively conquered by American capitalism. Government has been disabled or captured by the formidable powers of private enterprise and concentrated wealth. Self-governing rights that representative democracy conferred on citizens are now usurped by the overbearing demands of corporate and financial interests. Collectively, the corporate sector has its arms around both political parties, the financing of political careers, the production of the policy agendas and propaganda of influential think tanks, and control of most major media.

What the capitalist system wants is more—more wealth, more freedom to do whatever it wishes. This has always been its instinct, unless government intervened to stop it. The objective now is to destroy any remaining forms of government interference, except of course for business subsidies and protections. Many elected representatives are implicitly enlisted in the cause., 1/5/2011

Witness the machinations of Art Pope and others here in North Carolina as well as the intended fallout from Citizens United vs FEC.


Blind Faith

An interesting article, and I agree with some sentiments contained therein. On the whole, however, it reads like a treatise of blind faith in the power of a sufficiently mighty government to end all of our ills.

Government should act as steward and servant, not master.

I could not agree more, though I'm not actually certain whether the author approves of this sentiment or not.

One thing we know for sure from history: there is no natural limit to what capitalism will seek in terms of power and profit. If government does not stand up and apply the brakes, society is defenseless.

Assuming (dubiously) for the moment that profit is not in a society's interest, the manner in which profit is acquired most certainly is. Nevertheless, I cannot see how society is defenseless against this vicious onslaught of capitalists. While corporations can funnel millions into political campaigns, they do not cast votes. Furthermore, corporations rely upon the economic practices of the American people. People can vote in many ways, including with their wallets, but they do retain ultimate political power under our system of government. Any damage done to our society is, therefore, ultimately our society's own fault (foreign events beyond our control aside, of course).

In those terms, both political parties are still highly vulnerable—as twentieth-century history repeatedly demonstrated, society cannot survive the burdens of an unfettered corporate order.

I'm not entirely clear on where this lesson is learned from the events of the twentieth century, but I am no historian. But, the opposite lesson - that society cannot survive the burdens of an unfettered government order - is illustrated time and again by the events of the twentieth century.

People are given different ideological labels, but Americans are not as opposed to "big government" as facile generalizations suggest. On many issues, there is overwhelming consensus that media and pundits ignore (check the polls, if you doubt this). Americans of all ages will fight to defend social protections—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, among others. People are skeptical to hostile about the excessive power of corporations. People want government to be more aggressive in many areas—like sending some of the financial malefactors to prison.

This seems to suggest that Americans in fact support big government. I have an alternate theory: people are self-centered and short-sighted. Once a person has been promised benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, it seems an obvious result of human nature that he will defend those personal benefits tenaciously. Furthermore, from my own experience, people generally don't like to be meddled with. This tendency would explain why people are wary of excessive corporate power, but would also suggest that many are similarly wary of excessive government power.

Whatever people on the left may call themselves, they have a special burden in this situation because they are deeply committed to the idea that government should be the trustworthy agent of the many, not the powerful few.

This quote, more than any other, illuminates my greatest quibble here. No government has ever been trustworthy. How much power the government needs to do its job is entirely debatable, and that debate has continued since before our First Continental Congress. Regardless of what segment of society is represented by the government, placing trust in the government always led to negative, and sometimes disastrous, results.


The Black Sheep