Sunday, November 14, 2010

Smaller Government! Less Democracy!

The Tea Partiers and other conservatives keep telling us that our government should be "smaller." By this, I gather they mean weaker and less able to tend to its core business: looking after the interests of the people who elect its leaders.

The utopia the "small government" advocates talk about resembles Mayberry but, like the Mayberry of TV-land, it does not and cannot exist. As soon as governmental power, that is, the power of our democratically elected representatives, is hobbled, corporate power moves in to take its place.

If BP angered us with its callous contempt for safety standards and dishonest response to the oil-spill disaster last spring, imagine how it would have behaved had government been "smaller," that is less able to enforce safety standards or demand restitution for the damage its mad grab for profits caused.

Actually, you may not have to imagine it if the small government conservatives have their way; you may actually find yourself living it. Instead of a public-dependent, one-person/one-vote democracy, our lives will be dominated by a profit-oriented, one-dollar/one-vote corporatacracy. Good luck getting a sympathetic, public-spirited response from the likes of BP, Halliburton or Citigroup once we live in ConglomoCorp-World.

New York Times columnist, Frank Rich, with his usual insight, has highlighted in his column today some of the trends that have pushed us more and more under the domination of the super-rich in recent decades, i.e., since the current conservative revival began.

Here are a couple of the highlights from his piece:

"The wealthy Americans we should worry about instead are the ones who implicitly won the election — those who take far more from America than they give back. They...are all but certain to cash in on the Nov. 2 results. There’s no one in Washington in either party with the fortitude to try to stop them from grabbing anything that’s not nailed down."

"The Americans I’m talking about are not just those shadowy anonymous corporate campaign contributors who flooded this campaign. No less triumphant were those individuals at the apex of the economic pyramid — the superrich who have gotten spectacularly richer over the last four decades while their fellow citizens either treaded water or lost ground. The top 1 percent of American earners took in 23.5 percent of the nation’s pretax income in 2007 — up from less than 9 percent in 1976."

"The bigger issue is whether the country can afford the systemic damage being done by the ever-growing income inequality between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else, whether poor, middle class or even rich. That burden is inflicted not just on the debt but on the very idea of America — our Horatio Alger faith in social mobility over plutocracy, our belief that our brand of can-do capitalism brings about innovation and growth, and our fundamental sense of fairness. Incredibly, the top 1 percent of Americans now have tax rates a third lower than the same top percentile had in 1970."

Well said.

Rich cites a source that says the process of super-rich domination began when Carter was president, which surprised me, since I always saw the beginning of the trend with Reagan's rise. Of course one of the primary culprits in this trend is the expense of presidential and congressional campaigns; this expense means elected leaders must defer to the super-rich in order to get into office. It may well be that Carter's era saw its beginning even before Reagan took office.

In any case, it would be nice if those who keep demanding "small government," would acknowledge that the government we have is already too small and too beholden to corporate wealth to adequately serve and protect us. And let's thank Mr. Rich for pointing out that shrinking our democratic institutions is not the road to utopia.







Frank Rich of the New York Times

A Reliable Source