Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Middle Way

I really like this piece by Oliver Willis in the Huffington Post. It is something I have been thinking a lot lately. I regard the contrast between Republican and Democratic positions as night and day. Not good and evil, but I reject the assertion of the hysterical Nader crowd that the two parties are one and the same. I agree that a lot of what comes out of Washington has been ruined by corporate lobbyists who are the scum of the Earth. But the effort and sentiment going in is different. The problem isn’t Congress or even the President. It is our inability to remove the influence of money and power from our legislative process. We have legalized bribery.

Buddhist teaching often refers to the Middle Way. This refers to the Buddhist practice of non-extremism. There is far too much extremism in American society. We are “all or nothing” people. It is difficult to be a moderate in this country. There is a lot of lip service paid to the supposed moderate tendencies of John McCain. That is utter ballyhoo! McCain may not be a religious extremist, but he is still extreme in his view that government should get out of the way and let business take the lead.

I am currently reading Robert Reich’s new book; Supercapitalism, which was released in 2007. The general premise is that capitalism is a system of the economic market. Capitalism is the great empowerer individual interests (wealth), but it is not a good mechanism for the common good. When a democracy is strong it acts as solid counterweight to the singular focus of capitalism. The problem, Reich posits, is that our democratic system has failed and as a result capitalism has run amok in our society growing into supercapitalism.

I think that this is largely the case because business interests have selfishly embarked on a public relations campaign to vilify government and blame it for the economic woes of the working and middle class. It is the nature of capitalism to seek supremacy over any obstacles. The more voters buy into the distorted view of government painted by corporate profiteers the more compelling this case has become. Ultimately business interests have become so powerful that they have kowtowed government. In their selfish pursuit of money they have turned government into their cash cow. Republicans (the party of big business) decry welfare programs but love corporate welfare and no bid contracts for their corporate allies. I think to call Republicans the pro-business party is not that great a stretch. They are pro-business to the exclusion of all other interests. This, in my estimation, is nothing to be proud of. Democrats are invariably cast as anti-business, anti-growth and anti-wealth. This is as false as the former is true. Liberals position themselves as pro-government largely to offset the conservative business only position. I would argue that the liberal heart truly lies in the middle way; a system of checks and balances for our economy with capitalism and democracy as equal and cooperative interests offsetting one another. We need capitalism (business) to create wealth in financial terms just as we need democracy (government) to create wealth in societal terms. We need economic development and economic enrichment.

An economy can not grow in size forever without draining resources in one form or another. An economy can enrich itself in perpetuity. This will require the strengths of both business and government. Neither can succeed without the other.

This is the choice offered on November 4th. It is nothing less than a last gasp chance to save our fragile experiment started so many years ago by founding brothers in Philadelphia. They said: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” There in the very founding document of our great republic is as clear an argument for the role of government as you could ask for. Yes, they were resisting the tyranny of a foreign government, but these were men of law and reason. They understood that a government must be answerable to its people.

Capitalism and democracy have bled together until our government has become cuckolded by the power of the free market. We are seeing the first signs that this could (and should) begin to reverse itself and come into balance. The government’s financial agencies are moving to regulate the market. This is a good sign. A vote for John McCain could well stymie the progress we are beginning to see. The supercapitalists will never allow him to appoint as independent thinking a Treasury Secretary as Hank Paulson. His actions, I argue, have been a surprise to them. And not a pleasant one I would venture to guess.

The Social-Darwinist side of my brain say screw the capitalists, let them choke on their debt, but we can not so unsettle our financial system. Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke have taken small, but necessary, first steps. The Middle Way would dictate introducing some measured and reasoned regulatory mechanisms into the system to ensure that pea-brain MBA don’t screw the taxpayers again. I would urge you to read the article called Obamanomics that was in the New York Times Magazine several weeks ago. A great glimpse of the power of the moderate approach which, it appears is moving into favor in this country among reasonable thinking people.

And not a moment too soon!

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