A disappointing performance

I know he’s a Republican in disguise, but I nevertheless held out for the hope that Obama would at least give lip service to the notion that government has an extremely important role to play in the betterment of society, and that an insistence on reducing the role of government and its needed regulations, in the belief that it will unleash an era of prosperity, is incorrect and undemocratic.

Unregulated free markets bring on growing insecurity through greater oscillations in the business cycle, more asset bubbles and bursts, increased poverty, and increased income and wealth inequality. At the same time, starving the beast, as right wingers like to say, has the effect of not only reducing the income stimulating effect of government spending, it adds to the poverty and inequity of the system by generating public services that are so inadequate that it leaves the working classes with no choice but to accept any wage in the private sector, keeping wages low – the WalMartization of the U.S. economy. Such policies will create a greater divide between the minority of those who can pay private providers of quality education, excellent health care, and higher eduction, and those who cannot and are forced to rely on what’s offered by government. This is guaranteed to create a class of workers who are forever working at subsistence, struggling to obtain an education, losing homes to pay medical bills, and moving in and out of poverty.

What’s more, the only way to bring the market under control and to avoid the above scenarios is through democratic government. But by keeping the focus on government as an alien power that gets in the way of the magic of the free market, Romney, and like-minded folk, paint an image of a rights-encroaching intrusive institution, one that is forever on the backs of the people. Lost is the notion of government as a voice of the people, the notion that we, the people, are government, and that it’s supposed to do our bidding; that a truly democratic government is one in which the voices of the many are heard more often than the voices of a tiny but extremely powerful minority. And what a better way to deflect attention from the notion of government as a vehicle for real democracy than by portraying it as an oppresive, unproductive, institution – with the exception of the military and police, of course!

Could you imagine what would happen to the tax burden of corporations, the wealthy, and small businesses, if they were to be taxed at rates commensurate to the real benefits they actually receive from government? The burden such a democratic government could impose on businesses by requiring they observe humane work environments, livable wages, quick recognition of unions, an NLRB that is pro-labor, aggressive anti-trust regulators, aggressive consumer protection laws, aggressive environmental laws, humane parental leave, universal health care, no war?

A truly democratic government would wield the power of the majority over the minority, forcing the latter to comply with the common needs and aspirations of the many. This would impose greater burdens on the wealthy – not in the sense that it would cripple their ability to generate output and employment, but in the sense that they’d be forced to pay an amount commensurate to their benefits while being prevented from engaging in behavior that’s destructive to the economy and the social fabric. Disguising this fundamental motive (the desire to avoid such burdens) by instead focusing on the image of an overbearing, parasitic, government, has the effect of keeping the masses at bay by getting them to join the fight against government rather than encouraging them to participate even more. It also has the effect of keeping wages close to subsistence. Thus, their plea to eliminate PBS, the rash of voter suppression laws (in the guise of voter fraud protection) the endless attacks on public services, and the perennial insistence on lower taxes.

All of this, and more, could have been brought up by Obama; but he didn’t because he too thinks like a Republican. Thus the spectacle of both of them trying to outdo each other in their fealty to balanced budgets, the magical powers of small business, the need to eliminate government waste, etc. He could have pointed out the importance of government and the instability and inequity generating nature of free markets, but he didn’t. He could have insisted on pinning Romney with the failed policies that led to the Great Recession, but he didn’t. His reticence on these points wasn’t just a matter of him “not being on his game,” the reticence belies his acceptance of the same principles.

About Mayo Toruño

Professor of Economics, Emeritus California State University San Bernardino
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