Friday, November 25, 2011

Caveat Emperor

What better day to take a moment and wonder whether or not, in the pursuit of economic stability, we aren't selling our birthright for a mess of pottage?
[C]onsider the interview that Alex Stubb, the minister of Europe for Finland’s right-wing government, gave to the Financial Times last weekend. The six euro-zone nations with AAA credit ratings, said Stubb, should have greater say in Europe’s economic affairs than the other 11 euro members. The political rights of Southern and Eastern Europe would be subordinated, essentially, to those of Germany and Scandinavia — or to credit rating agencies, which are threatening to downgrade France (thereby reducing the number of decision-making euro nations from six to five).

What Stubb is proposing, and what the markets are doing, is, in essence, extending to the realm of once-equally-sovereign nations the one-dollar-one-vote principle that our Supreme Court enshrined in its Citizens United decision last year. The requirement that one must own property to vote — abolished in this nation in the early 1800s by the Jacksonian Democrats — has been resurrected by powerful financial institutions and their political allies.
What we in America are experiencing is little more than the result of accepting the lie that our state institutions should serve the financial interests of corporate power. With the conflation of bourgeois democratic liberalism and a species of corporate capitalism, we have lost the reality that the common good is more than simple prosperity, that our institutions serve the common good, and that accumulated wealth equals massed power and is a danger to the health of our polis.

This last, in particular, was a warning cited again and again in The Federalist Papers. It also became the mantra of proponents of expanded democratic rights during the Jacksonian era. It withered during the Gilded Age at the end of the 19th century when the states and the United States Senate and the Supreme Court worked in lock-step to keep growing rage at the very obvious social and economic disparity at bay. One would have thought the lessons from the Great Depression would have sunk so deep in to our collective political bones we would not need this discussion again. Alas, a combination of greed, ignorance, and collective forgetfulness has created conditions that leave us staring at the very easy, very obvious solutions, and declaring them either impossible or, what seems worse, dangerous to our political and economic order.

The health of the American economy is not the gauge by which we determine the health of our polity. Giving free reign to private institutions to determine our public policy at the expense of the common good has been a recipe for disaster. Continuing this trend in the face of disastrous failure; continuing to listen to the voices of those who created the conditions in which we live long after these voices have lost any credibility; continuing to insist that supporting the private good of some large private institutions is key to advancing the public good, regardless of any evidence to support it; all these create the false political stalemate that is, in fact, the on-going stranglehold by large private institutions over the public sector whose mandate is to serve all of us. With a strength enhanced by fear and rage, the result is our current malaise and legislative deadlock that is easily overcome, given only slightly more backbone.

Our democratic institutions have always been frail; in the face of concerted effort by private interests who have amassed the kind of power and influence we see here and abroad, they seem to teeter on the brink of collapse. Funny enough, the answers are simple enough and easy enough, and fully in line with the best of our traditions. That we just cannot find the wherewithal to force them through reluctant legislatures should be enough evidence for even the biggest skeptic that our democracy, like our economy, is sick. It isn't a mortal illness by any means. We should take care, however, not to delay doing what really needs to be done in order to return it to robust health.

Virtual Tin Cup

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