Saturday, May 1, 2010

about a smallish government ambition...

Anyone who can see through the skin deep rationales from the small government ideologues knows that it's easy to stir up anger at government overspending by blaming socialism and other ominous progressive conspiracies. The caricature rings too true in the case of the Medicare recipient who blames overspending on everyone else's programs while he defends that his benefits should be untouchable. The blame for overspending is always someone else's. We want our services as long as someone else pays for it.

The truth is simple. Government is not growing into a socialistic centrally controlled economy. In fact the large government initiatives that built the infrastructure of this country have no parallel today, except in the case of military spending (ignored and untouchable in the right wing paranoid mind set). The cost of government is largely calculated through a misleading and questionable accounting fallacy. Most of the so called "cost of government" is in fact absorbed by programs that pour the funds right back into the economy, and not to support fat salaries of fat cat civil servants. In fact the most material motivation civil servants might have is the possibility of incurring favor with the "private sector" plutocrats that might one day return the favor (a form of delayed bribery, which is nonetheless corrupt). Medicare and Social Security are the largest and growing sector of the federal budget. That, at least, is not a fact in dispute.

Right wing conservatives hiding under the mantle of fiscal responsibility launch attacks on those institutions that provide a measure of safety to the most vulnerable in our society - a requirement of a civilized society. They point at the cost of these programs as the reason for the shrinking wealth of the middle class, burdened by high taxes. Meanwhile we see the rise of a gilded class of short term gamblers who are driven by greed to put our economy on a self destructive race to short term fortune hunting. We see our financial institutions pull the world to the edge of catastrophe moved by executive swindlers who will gladly pursue their destructive strategies with the calculation that their fortunes will be well consolidated in time to step out of the game when the inevitable collapse comes.

The reality that is screaming to be recognized is that, when a society as rich as ours allows such concentration of wealth, it places a heavy burden on the individual, who faces the opportunity of outrageous wealth, to act in a way that is inconsiderate of the values that keep us together as members of a community, Americans, or members of the human family. Most, if not all, will take the mammoth payoff without as much as a moment of annoying ethical second guessing. Isn't the market telling them they deserve it all? Aren't they the smartest ones who are doing God's work, God being the "free market" whose invisible hand touches us all in our pockets? I know He's been in my pocket, but, for the anointed, He has been showering them with limitless asset blessings. The truth is that faced with such adulation from an ideology that idolizes wealth, and the opportunity to a lifestyle beyond any conceivable dream of the average person, these people act, understandably, in a pattern that can only be categorized as sociopathic. Undoubtedly they are as impotent to change their fate as anyone facing the same promise of blissful opulence, with as many exceptions as there were anti-Nazi activists in 1939 Germany. People are merely pawns of History in large measure, and pawns of an economic logic propped up by a new version of the age old ideology of dominance, which underlies any number of corrupt systems of power concentration from absolutist monarchs of ancient times to fascism of recent decades. Wealth and power are co-joined twins who show up throughout history, wherever the balance of freedom and community is trampled on by an exploitation-based institutionalized inequality.

If we look at the numbers we see a well documented trend towards wealth concentration that has been blessed by an ideology of paralyzing complacency. This ideology of greed, masquerading as free-enterprise, has us paralyzed in the face of the inevitable self-destruction that is firmly planted in our path. We came very close to irreversible catastrophe which receded only by patching the losses of the big financial behemoths at the expense of Average Joe taxpayer. It was simply another step towards higher inequality where the wealthiest Americans will have us all blackmailed anytime their losses hurt for compensation. And all we have to do is pay up. In that ratchet game, when the economy goes up, they get all the gains, when it goes down we get the losses. That is how we have come to fatten their slice of the pie by taking away from the rest of us (top 1% tripled their after tax income from 8% to 24%, from 1981 to 2006) while their share of taxes actually gets transferred to the Middle Class (one third of it in the same 25 years).

As we are all getting poorer, with standard of living standing still only by switching to two-wage earner families since the 70's (cost of labor peaked in 1972) a few get outrageously rich by literally having their hands in our pockets. Like the saying goes: we rob banks because that's where the money is, and it's been revealed in our times that the easiest way to rob a bank is to own one.

While our manufacturing economy shrinks, the financial services industry explodes, consuming the larger part of our wealth. The top six banks used to have a capitalization equivalent to 17% of GDP but now they add up to 60% of GDP. They fail and we all go down, or so they want us to believe. The process of saving them requires the Fed to provide liquidity (loan them money at 0% interest) while they turn that money back around to buy government debt at 4%-5%, gobbling billions without creating one cent of value. The creative technological advances that provide the life blood to the manufacturing industry, the machine that creates value, keeps shrinking, while these "financial services" serve themselves of anything that they can get their hands on: our savings, our pensions (where else are pension funds, 401-ks, IRAs, going to look for protection from the shrinking value of the dollar? Capital markets are the answer). The only argument in favor of maintaining this structure in place is the impossible-to-rebate ideology that the market is infallible and our only hope for the survival of the uber-efficient capitalist system.

So when we look at government and its size, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we can't afford Social Security and Medicare, which are pushing us toward bankruptcy. No! These services are a small measure of necessary redistribution required for survival of a system that gives all the winnings to the very few, as if the rest of us who work hard and in many cases create real wealth are in fact a burden and not the real toilers on whose backs the gilded profiteers slide along oblivious of humanity in their ungodly deception of godly aspiration.

It's not the Postal worker, or the fire fighter, or even the maligned DMV worker that is costing us our mortgaged future. It is this class made of hubris and arrogance, and mostly human frailty, that is at once the product and the agent of a capitalistic dream's delusion of grandeur. A capitalism on crack that will shower the greedy with the gold transmuted from the toil of the large American masses, and the blood of the faceless masses of an even more remote world of "terrorism and anti-American rage". Just step back for a moment and see what your eyes are trying to tell you. Add a little common sense to the facts that even Fox News millionaire populists can't obscure, and without the contortions of the misinformation antics that assail us every time we turn to Rah-Rah media, things will start making sense.