The Government Zombie

Please read this wonderful Vanity Fair article on wealth distribution.

Progressives claim that the theory of supply-side/trickle down economics has already been discredited in practice, then cite a series of statistics and studies from the Reagan era to support that claim. Trickle-downers respond that the clear waters of their theory were muddied by Keynesian impositions, not allowing it to thrive. You may hear talk today about Big Government's wasteful, inefficient, intrusive use of tax dollars. There is much anecdotal evidence to support the claim the Federal Government has on embarrassing bloat and waste. But there is an equal amount of study pointing to the exploitative, divisive and issue-diverting nature of for-profit institutions and programs aiming to solve the same problems. Do we go with Government, or do we hang it out for private interests to sort out? Which is it?   

Realistic solutions to economic disparity, predictably, lie somewhere in between, but in this day and age, any compromise is seen as appeasement, so it's very difficult to get everyone in the same room.

Mistrust of Government is as old as human society. With all of this back and forth about how Government needs to back off, I can't help but wonder why there hasn't been equal discussion about distrust of Corporations. Our nation's admiration of wealth (regardless of how it's earned) has, until very recently, immunized Corporations Executives from criticism. Associating wealth with nobility and risk with courage is a defining, hegemonic feature of American society. We take risks. We risk our money for new ventures, we risk bankruptcy to evolve a technology, we risk our livelihood to strike out on our own to create something new, something that has never been attempted before. Thereby, any attempted association of wealth with greed, or exploitation, or corruption, is often branded as envy, or sour grapes, or simple ignorance.  

Today, Corporations and Government both have targets on their backs, but Corporations - unlike Government - aren't constrained by a pretense that they represent everyday people. They represent shareholders, but their advertising allows them to state otherwise. On the inside, they represent the hope for their own hope and success, and on the outside, their presence is trans-formative. Corporations exist to make profit for a small sliver of the population. Government, on the other hand, has an ostensible duty to act as a surrogate for citizen needs. Unfortunately, our representative system suffers from excess and rot that keep us from ever feeling like they represent our interests any more than Corporations do. No wonder it's so easy to vilify Washington!

This 'excess and rot' can be largely attributed to the way permissive campaign finance and lobbying legislation have swung the doors wide open for any private interest to jump in, skip over its place in line, and replace Government's interest in you with a vested interest in whatever industry has thrown enough dollars in the ring. This common phenomenon is one that can be represented by an illustration of Uncle Sam kneeling to a corporate logo. 

I share peoples' wariness about handing over too much power to the Government. I hate taxes, too. I also know, though, that numerous tax exemptions obtained by Corporations are in directly subservience to the Corporate Lobby's hold on Washington, and, generally speaking, the profit motive.  

I often wonder why anti-tax protesters in the Tea Party and elsewhere haven't directed more of their ire at tax laws easing restrictions for large, profitable companies. These companies flit through tax loopholes abroad, while the tax burdens get shouldered by the blue collar, middle class families they purportedly represent. Surely, this isn't fair? For anti-tax protesters, this argument boils down to 'stop taxing me so much!' The argument, and the protest, never gets beyond that simple line.

What on earth happened to 'make Company X pay its fair share so that I'm not taxed so much!' Do we worship the acquisition of wealth so much that we can't bring ourselves to demand that the obscenely wealthy becoming just 'very, very wealthy' so that the bottom 99% help to, as the Vanity Fair article asserts, improve the state of the country as a whole?

I am sometimes accused of ignorance to the complex realities of socio-economics, and therefore naively misguided in my ethical outrage over the greed and corruption of the wealthy elite. I've been told that when culled together into a cohesive whole, the figures and statistics create an unassailable argument for Conservative Fiscal policy.  

Whenever I ask about what should do about social injustice, economic injustice and poverty, I hear vague, morally and racially loaded 'calls to action.' If I am to hear this correctly, the fifteen to twenty percent in our country below the poverty line need to merely drop their crack pipes, get jobs, and start learning to be responsible. The unavailability of social programs and a good education in many areas apparently isn't a factor in this world view. Perhaps my ideological opponents have a problems with giving the poor essential human services, because ideologically, they see the poor as untrustworthy and unaccountable.  Just as many in this country worship wealth and equate it with nobility, they too scorn poverty and equate it with irresponsibility and addiction. I find this ethically disgusting.

I do have ideological problems with giving private, for-profit Corporations carte blanche in overseeing essential human services. I don't trust the profit motive any more than I do Government bureaucracy, but education, health care, infrastructure and other services belong in our hands and not the hands of Corporate interests, which are, for the record, markedly removed from the interests of everyday people.

The Government was created to represent those interests, and while it arguably doesn't always succeed, that is its designated purpose. Corporations, outside of their sappy PR statements crafted by teams of copywriters, have an obligation to profit, to shareholders, and to anyone with a private interest in their success. How does this self serving entity become a trustworthy advocate for the poor?  How on earth can a Corporation ever be truly in sync with the interests of the disenfranchised?  Many argue that for-profit models increase efficiency and lower costs. That may be generally true (and it may not), but when it comes to privatization, there is a whole lot more than organizational efficiency to consider.

Large Corporations exist to create wealth for those who are already quite wealthy. Letting such entities run roughshod over certain vital services creates conditions, ultimately, wherein the way they do business shifts in favor of those who provide the service, rather than those on the receiving end. You can argue that the biggest enemy to the citizenry from Government services is corruption taxation and waste, but you could also argue that the biggest enemy to a citizenry from same services privatized to 'fix the budget' is corruption, exploitation, greed, unequal representation and inequality. So, tell me again why it has to be either entirely one or entirely the other?  

The Vanity Fair article mentions de Tocqueville's 'self-interest properly understood.' Well, I think that self-interest properly understood is the view that a high quality of living is success that hinges on others success, self-interest that hinges on others self-interest. This could solving the problems in health care by utilizing the strengths and weaknesses of socialistic and privatized services we already have, and intelligently applying them to a kind of all purpose solution without fear of being branded a socialist or a Capitalist pig. My HMO, for instance, merges the seemingly impossible by mixing non-profit and for-profit interests - the individual health groups are for-profit but reimbursed by the larger non-profit plan. Just one example.

I hear much loud, powerful talk about limiting Governments' restrictions on Corporations, but don't hear so much about limiting Corporations' hold on Government. Were we to reduce corporations' excessive lobbying power in Washington, 'Government for the people' could be more than a slogan. It could be ours again, not beholden to private interests. The Government we rightfully do not trust right now is a Government that has been turned into zombified and corrupted  by a deeply vested pro-lobby atmosphere. The politicians serving to perpetuate that atmosphere are ushered into office in much the same way, which is where campaign finance reform becomes essential. Unfortunately, it is never politically expedient to discuss these sorts of reforms. The argument goes round and round, hacking off the symptoms and failing to address the cause.

The moment those toxic influences leave Government, it can start working for us again. It can be what it was designed to be - a flawed, well intentioned collection of representatives, committees, checks and balances designed to make life easier for everybody, not just the privileged few.  


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