|Number 189||January 24, 2003|
I usually refrain from commenting directly on the details of the “hot issue” of the day/week/month, preferring to talk instead about patterns and trends, the ongoing use of propaganda and related illusions, and the ins and outs of the ideologies and philosophies that we need to understand in order to think clearly about the Big Picture. Also, there are usually all sorts of lefty commentators making the essential points about the details and pointing out the major absurdities. Why echo the more widely-distributed commentators?
This next two weeks I make an exception. Since the more widely-read commentators do not seem to be commenting on what I think is the main point about Bush’s recently-released “economic stimulus” plan, I figured I had better say a few words about it myself.
I start this week by making some points about the larger agenda of the Bush-ites (whom I refer to as the “IC crowd,” defined in the “Agenda” article this week). Next week I’ll talk about how Bush’s plan to cut taxes is promoting that agenda. I know it’s usually very boring to talk about economics, but don’t worry—this is Nygaard Notes, where the boring becomes interesting, and the disgusting is often amusing!
Lots of new readers this week. Welcome! If you detect more than the usual odd typos and errors (how would you know what is the usual number...?), my excuse is that my furnace went out about 8 times as I was trying to finish this week’s edition. (For those of you in remote locations, the high temperature in Minnesota today was about 10 degrees Fahrenheit.) So, chilly brain, chilly fingers, silly errors? Maybe. Think of them as charming eccentricities, if you would.
OK, I gotta go warm up. Until next week,
The Star Tribune (Newspaper of the Twin Cities!) reported on the front page of the Business section of January 24th on a “Big Gain At UnitedHealth; 17th Straight Quarter With Double-Digit Growth.” UnitedHealth is “the largest U.S. provider of health services” and their “earnings” (that’s Business-speak for “profits”) increased 40 percent in the fourth quarter of 2002, which was “the 12th straight quarter in which the Minnetonka (Minnesota)-based firm saw profits increase by 30 percent or better.” UnitedHealth people are pretty enthusiastic about all this money, as you might imagine. But, as the Star Trib reporter noted in the ninth paragraph of the story:
Meanwhile, state legislators are considering charging poverty-level Medicaid recipients a prescription drug co-pay as a means of reducing the state budget deficit.
Resource #1: For all who understand the power of organized labor, here is some excellent and exciting news: Earlier this month more than 100 trade unionists met in Chicago and formed a new alliance called U.S. Labor Against War (USLAW). The progressive news site Alternet has done some good reporting on the peace activities of organized labor, at http://www.alternet.org/labor/. The site includes not only a report on USLAW, but also a comprehensive list of labor unions which have taken a stand against the war.
For a fascinating summary of how organized labor has reacted to war throughout US history, check out historian David Montgomery’s article “Labor in Wartime: Some Lessons from History.” It’s on the site of WorkDay Minnesota at http://www.workdayminnesota.org/permanent/history/labor_in_wartime.php.
Resource #2: Come to the Bridge! (for Minnesotans only). This is the text of an e-mail message from the long-lived peace group Friends for a Non-Violent World.
Dear Friends, Come be a part of a rare opportunity for us to raise our voices to a worldwide audience. The British Broadcasting Company [BBC} TV will be filming the vigil on the Marshall/Lake Street Bridge on Wednesday, January 29th at 4:30 to 5:30 PM. Bring your friends, your children, your hopes, and your mittens. This is a unique way to tell our British and world friends that we, too, desire peace and justice. Sincerely, Friends for a Non-Violent World, 651-917-0383, www.fnvw.org.
So-called “progressives” like to complain about the power of government to wage war, to oppress our communities with their police powers, to protect the property of modern-day robber barons, and to generally tilt the playing field in favor of corporations. Those are all good points; I complain about the same things—and more!
So-called “conservatives” like to complain about the power of government for a whole different set of reasons, including government’s power to tax (which they call “confiscating” their property), to redistribute wealth via taxing and spending on social programs (which they claim “distorts” the economy, and to do anything other than “protecting our Constitutional rights and defending us from foreign attack,” in the words of the Libertarian Party.
So, everybody hates the government, right? Not exactly. Everybody hates the government that works against their interests. But—and this is a bit of a secret—everybody is rather fond of the government that serves their interests. A little-known secret in this country is that we have more than just one government. In fact, we have two, which might be called a Business Government and a Popular Government. “The” government in the United States is mostly a Business Government, but not entirely. The tension between the two is what is often referred to as “class warfare.”
The Business Government
What we call the Free Market works in a thousand ways to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who already have it. This is so pervasive that most people have a hard time seeing it. It’s so pervasive, in fact, that many people have a hard time seeing it even when it is pointed out to them. As one example of this, it’s hardly controversial to point out that the owner of a business gets to decide how that business is run. Who notices that this is a reflection of a Free Market ideology that elevates owners over workers?
One may be able to imagine a system in which the people who do the work actually get a say in how their work is done. But how many people can see that the standard way of doing things is essentially totalitarian, while the latter model would be democratic? The distinction is underlined by the fact that ownership is determined by wealth and—the American myth of the “meritocracy” notwithstanding—wealth is mostly determined by luck (for example, by being born into a wealthy family, buying the right stocks, etc) and/or corruption (by squeezing workers, evading taxes, monopolizing a market, etc).
The role of a Business Government, then, is to protect the power and wealth of the lucky and corrupt few who hold most of both by A) Staying out of the way of the functioning of the Free Market, and B) Keeping workers and other non-wealthy people from interfering with the market-based distribution of wealth and, consequently, power. How does a Business Government do that?
The ways are too numerous to list, but here are a few: By dominating international financial institutions that do the bidding of U.S. corporations; by sending in the military when a foreign leader (elected or not) threatens international “order and stability,” the meaning of which is understood by all who matter; by limiting the rights of workers to have any say control over their working conditions or the fruits of their work; by organizing a “justice” system that polices the poor and protects the rich and their property. . . the list goes on.
This is not a “Democrat/Republican” thing, by the way; the pro-Business orientation of our government is built in to the very foundations of the Republic. For details, see Jerry Fresia’s book, “Toward An American Revolution: Exposing the Constitution and Other Illusions.”
The Popular Government
Despite the Business orientation of the U.S. political system, there have been, from the beginning, popular movements that have sought to challenge the rights of property and wealth, and that have pushed for a more democratic orientation in which the rights of people take precedence over the rights of property. These popular movements have at times succeeded in getting laws and programs passed that attempt to address some of the injustices brought about by our wealth-oriented Free Market system.
Many workers and poor people benefit from and depend on such programs as Social Security, workers’ compensation, Medicaid, and public transit, among many others. All of us benefit from government policies and programs such as environmental regulations, the National Weather Service, nursing home safety standards, public health laws—this list goes on, as well.
In the cases where government responds to the needs of the general population by limiting the unbridled freedom of those with property, the owning classes will oppose the government. Thus, the IC crowd opposes the income tax as “confiscation of wealth;” opposes Social Security and child care programs as evidence of a perverse “nanny state;” opposes welfare as “a distortion of the Free Market;” and generally opposes any public program that thinks in terms of “we” instead of “me.” As the Libertarian Party puts it, they oppose “the unjust and false concept of ‘public property.’”
And vice versa. When government acts in the interests of the wealthy and large corporations, many of the “common people” will oppose that. People who lack sufficient wealth to make the Free Market respond to their needs understand that they need a strong “we” to secure the necessities of life for “me.” So, there’s your “class warfare” again. It’s not just there when Republicans accuse Democrats of fomenting it; it’s always there.
What is inspiring is to imagine, as some of us can, the creation of something that would be far different than what we now call “government,” but which would bring about a truly people-oriented and sustainable public commons in which human rights and the natural balance of the planet are respected and nurtured. Imagine that! That’s a ways off, however. In the meantime, it’s necessary to attempt to defend the successes we have had, even while we try to create a better system for the future.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a key part of the IC agenda.
Here is a summary of some of the declared missions of the most influential groups currently operating on the national level in the United States. They refer to themselves as “conservative.” As I pointed out in Nygaard Notes #160, in “No More ‘Left’ and ‘Right:’ Introducing New Terms,” I like to call them “IC,” to illustrate their core ideologies of Individualism and Competitiveness. I have helpfully placed in italics the phrases in each group’s comments most relevant to the current discussion.
Probably the most influential “think tank” in the United States in recent years is the Heritage Foundation. Heritage has as its mission “to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”
Yet another influential “conservative” think tank is the American Enterprise Institute, headquartered in Washington, DC. They are “dedicated to preserving and strengthening the foundations of freedom—limited government, private enterprise, vital cultural and political institutions, and a strong foreign policy and national defense...”
The mission of the influential libertarian group the Cato Institute says that Cato “seeks to broaden the parameters of public policy debate to allow consideration of the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets and peace.”
The Libertarian Party itself, which is “working every day to cut your taxes!” states that, in principle, they “challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual.” When government gets out of the way, they state, we will thankfully end up with “the only [economic system] compatible with the protection of individual rights, [which] is the free market.”
The comprehensive website Townhall.com claims to be “a one-stop mall of ideas in which people congregate to exchange, discuss and disseminate the latest news and information from the conservative movement.” They state that, while “the member organizations and columnists” featured on the site “do not necessarily agree on every issue,” they believe that’s OK because an “open and honest debate of the issues within the conservative community will help us all in the fight against those who would sacrifice the individual and freedom for political gain and big government.”
The attack on “big government” or “the cult of the omnipotent state” is at the core of the Bush agenda, as it was for Reagan and will be for any other IC president we may have in the future.
There’s a glimpse of the real agenda of the President and his allies, the one that no one is talking about. Next week I’ll look specifically at the “economic stimulus” plan put forth by the Mr. Bush on January 7th. (Sneak preview: The primary goal is neither stimulating the economy nor cutting taxes!)