“. . . that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” – Implored by Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
. . . government of the people, by the corporations, for profit . . .
Sometimes images of the first RoboCop movie come to mind as I contemplate our circumstances today and what lies ahead. These images derive from one of the movie’s basic premises – that a corporation owned the city and operated its services. And, indeed, it was that for-profit corporate control that brought about the disastrous circumstances faced by the public in that dystopian future.
As we move further and further from Lincoln’s entreaty for the country, we desecrate the enormous sacrifices he sought to honor. As capitalist corporations exert more and more control of how society operates, the interests of the public diminish toward nothing. Today we continue to suffer the consequences of corporate capitalism gone wild. With the dismantling of the wise regulatory boundaries on the financial sector of private enterprise (under the unwise leadership of Bill Clinton) venture capitalists ran rampant – devising ever riskier tricks to serve their greed. Financial schemes became an industry unto itself. But the wealth with which the schemers gambled was not their own; it was house money, thus making the risk so much easier to take. And when everything fell apart – as a few predicted it would – it was as if no one was prepared for it. And, of course, the huge financial institutions that had not previously existed, but which were now “too big to fail” had to be salvaged. And when they were, because of the lofty position of those who had brought this all about, no one was truly held to account – no one, that is, but the public.
The public had made the grievous mistake of failing to pay sufficient attention. Clearly, then, it was all our fault. We had not demanded that the old regulations not be dismantled. We had felt comfortable investing money in the Wall Street casinos. We had accepted the staid advice that investments need no attention, just stay the course, get in for the long haul, investments always gain in the long haul . . . Really?
Thus, corporations and their dutiful servants gained enormous wealth while the rest of the world suffered, and continues to suffer. The collapse of the economy in late 2008, early 2009 was the greatest transfer of wealth that may have ever occurred. It transferred enormous amounts of public wealth into the hands of the Wall Street casinos and, thus, into the pockets of those who run the casinos. Those who gained so much have never been required to restore to the rest of us what we lost, not the wealth, not the jobs, not the personal independence, not societal equilibrium. While 99% of the American citizenry continue in the downward spiral that started in the 1980's and have fallen precipitously since late 2008, the wealthiest are doing quite well. The large corporations – not your Mom and Pop small businesses, but the real corporations – are now sitting on more than two trillion dollars excess capital. Since corporate capitalists have suffered little and gained tremendously from the economy’s collapse, does it not stand to reason that it should be they who spend that wealth to improve our economy? No, not according to the capitalists, not according to Republican politicians – no, the wealthy have no debt for the havoc they wreaked.
Instead, what passes these days for public policy debate is a narrative created by the so-called “conservative” think tanks with an ideological imperative to dismantle government in service to the public and to replace it with a government in service to corporate capitalism. There is nothing truly conservative about this. It would dismantle our American democracy. It would place greed as the chief motivation for policy, instead of public good. That narrative spews its venom through legislative initiatives written by ALEC and promoted in state legislatures and through political propagandizing protected and encouraged by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. That narrative seeks to turn ordinary Americans against their own government, to convince them that government ought not protect public interests because that inhibits capitalist enterprise, and to convince them that – because government is the enemy – their neighbors who work in public service, government jobs are also the enemy. This is why the Republican party has chosen to target public sector employees (and, of course, their unions) as being over compensated and leeching taxpayer money for extravagant benefits and pensions. And, apparently, that narrative is succeeding – judging by the result in Wisconsin’s recall election, in which 37% of union labor households voted for Governor Walker! All around the country public employees, their wages, their benefits and their unions are under attack.
Do you really believe that is because the Great Recession of 2008/2009 was caused by the excesses of public employment? Do you really believe it was the teachers, the fire fighters and police officers (nearly 70% of state and local public employees) who brought down the economy? Do you really believe simply continuing to pay for public service as we have for generations is preventing the economy from moving forward? If so, then you have accepted the radical corporate capitalist Republican party narrative. But the narrative has nothing to do with reality. (See the report Some Basic Facts on State and Local Government Workers, October 28, 2011, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, www.cbpp.org)
Once the public accepts the idea that the government and public employees are to blame for the nation’s woes, it should be an easy sell to convince them that private enterprise should assume control. Wisconsin has already passed laws to sell off public assets to private enterprise. After all, what good is an asset if the wealthiest cannot make a profit off it? Take health care, for example. The United States provides lousy medical service to its population in a system dominated by for-profit insurance companies, who have only recently been required to use 80% of their revenue for actual medical services. That leaves 20% to pay for overhead – including substantial profit. Compare that with the U.S. Government Medicare system. Medicare operates at a 4% overhead, expending 96% of its revenue for actual medical services – sorry, no profit.
But, again, reality has little sway these days. Unless the American public quickly realizes neither government nor we, the ordinary citizens of this country, are the enemy, corporate capitalism will continue its relentless drive to control America. And we will truly become a government of the people, by the corporations, for profit.