Saturday, April 25, 2009

Our Paradox

There’s a curious paradox in the way that Americans view the deployment of authority by the United States Government, and I believe that this is behind many of our current problems. On the one hand, we enthusiastically give our military a 90% approval rating for invading another sovereign country, but when the EPA is given the authority to reduce carbon emissions it sends a chill up the collective spines of American citizens. We watch the FBI and the CIA and the NSA expand their surveillance into our own private lives, and we respond to this with the indifferent lethargy of a lazy redbone hound dog on a hot summer’s day, but when it’s suggested that government regulators be given increased authority to snoop on the affairs of private business, we are incensed at the intrusion. We accept the notion of uniformed policemen protecting us from street criminals, but we reject the notion of tight financial and environmental regulation to protect us from corporate criminals. The bottom line is this— we instinctively trust private business and we distrust the government. We should trust both, or neither.

My personal belief is that we were subjected to half a century of a world-wide anti-Communist hysteria in which Capitalism, along with democracy, was seen as our protection and our salvation. Communism went away, but our love affair with free market Capitalism continued, and when ethics and integrity eroded in our culture, the stage was set for an invasion. The invasion, in this case, was not from foreign armies or foreign interests or foreign ideologies. The invasion was from home-grown fellow citizens who put the short term, immediate accumulation of personal wealth above everything else. President Obama has said this very thing in his speeches, but in slightly different words. I think that the President’s words don’t go far enough, however. In a larger sense, we are all to blame for our own downfall. We cheered Ronald Reagan for his philosophy of government deregulation, and at least a third of us still think that he had the right idea. We elected Republican presidents to continue this policy for 20 of the last 30 years. And now, with the country in an actual depression (although we don’t call it by that name), we still don’t get the picture. We are at the mercy of an enemy of our own making— a network of business giants who are too big to find enough food to feed themselves and who are reduced to stealing food from our very own dinner plates.

We need an SEC and an EPA and an FDA and an FAA, and at least half a dozen other agencies, all with the funding and the power of the Pentagon, to protect us from the real enemy that threatens our nation, because it’s not going to be the Muslims or the foreign terrorists that make America go down the tube. There’s actually a functioning model in the world that shows how well tight government regulation can work. The model is Singapore. We would do well to look more closely at that model.

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