The GOP Presidential debate in Michigan yesterday evening was an extraordinary spectacle to view. It raised a troublesome concern as to whether, because of decreasing levels of political literacy, a decline in reading and the constant onslaught of propaganda from 24 hour cable television stations, it is no longer possible to insult the intelligence of the viewing public. One is reminded of Erasmus's observation that "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."
In that debate, Texas Governor Rick Perry could not remember which three federal departments he would try to eliminate. Former Speaker Next Gingrich castigated his questioners because they did obsequiously endorse his economic worldview concerning the centrality of corporations and the professedly essential roles they played in creating jobs and wealth, even though the evidence shows that corporations have largely helped to destroy the American Dream. Mit Romney repeated that, were he the president, he would have allowed GM and Chrysler to have gone into bankruptcy, rather than permit a government bailout that saved thousands of jobs and restored a vital part of America's decaying manufacturing sector.
It is apparent that none of these candidates have ever read a serious work of political philosophy or taken even one course in macro-economic theory.Four of the basic propositions that all of these candidates accept as Gospels are demonstrably untrue:
First, the argument that the role of government should be limited and passive is a conviction first posited by John Locke based upon his experiences and observations as a participant British politics in the late 17th century. Locke's notion of a limited government, if it had been not abandoned during the New Deal, would have utterly destroyed the ability of the Roosevelt administration to address the social and economic misery caused by the Great Depression. Instead, FDR's advisers wisely adopted both T. H. Green's vision that government should be used a positive instrument for the public good and John Maynard Keynes ideas about pump-priming the economy to create demand through government stimulus. By contrast, the GOP's arguments that governments, at all levels, must practice economic austerity and reduce taxes have exacerbated the current Great Recession and led to the firing of hundreds of thousands of public employees, including teachers, librarians, police and fire fighters, throughout the United States.
Second, the argument that government regulation thwarts economic development is belied by the experiences of India, Brazil and China. These three countries have vastly more extensive and onerous government regulation regimes than does the United States. Each of these economies have been expanding while the U.S. economy continue to stagnate. Irrespective of the arguments for or against government regulation, there is no evidence that shows a positive correlation between a lack of government regulation and overall economic growth
Third, the argument that the private sector, when left to its pursue its own profit-making agenda, will create well-paying jobs is nonsensical. Since the advent of the Reagan administration, corporate American has out-sourced, down-sized and destroyed the economic vitality of the United States through "fee-trade" and the transfer of investment assets to third-world countries while seeking the lowest possible labor costs and the highest possible returns for shareholders.The data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Labor has abundantly documented that, despite deregulation during the past thirty years, poverty and economic inequality has grown exponentially and destroyed the social mobility of a majority of the American population.
Fourth, the argument that government does not create jobs is a myth. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Rick Perry are proof positive that some politicians can spend almost their entire lives in the public - "socialist" - sector and still deny that they have been the beneficiaries of taxpayer largesse. In point of fact, governments at all levels employ millions of workers. Equally important, governments, when properly funded, through their employees provide the essential infrastructure and the public goods that the private sector depends upon and would never invest in unless they could find a possible profit. Health care, public education, vaccine, roads, airports, regulation of food and drugs, public safety, air pollution, and the laws that punish wrongdoing and promote the general welfare are by definition public goods because they are essential public services that are inherently not profitable.
The etymology of the word idiot comes from the Greek: It meant a person who was not involved in public affairs, one who did not participate in politics. Aristotle states that a person who does have a polis - one who is not involved in a political community - is either a barbarian or a god, but surely not a man. From the time of the ancients to the present, students of politics have emphasized the role of the state and the duty of citizens to become involved in politics. Cicero asks, "For what is government except the people's affair. Hence, it is as common affair, that is, an affair belonging to a state. And what is a state except a considerable number of men brought together in a certain bond of harmony?"
Edmund Burke, whom William Buckley revered as great conservative thinker, insists that political society is an historic project into which individuals entered into and departed from while sharing a common destiny: "..society is a... contract...It is to be looked on with reverence; because it is not a partnership in things.. Since the ends of partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it is a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born."
Burke's idea of a political society stands in stark contrast to the views of current GOP presidential candidates, each of whom is unable to imagine a political vision that sees beyond the needs of solitary individuals and corporate entities that seek solely to maximize their own selfish, short-term interests even when those interests have been shown to be detrimental to the needs of the majority of other citizens. The Lilliputian views of those presidential candidates and the GOP in general about the role of government, if accepted by voters, will ensure that the worst excesses of avarice, poor business decisions, and economic inequality will continue to haunt our children and our grandchildren.
In a truly democratic society, government, as the agent of the people, cannot be the enemy; and, Jacques Maritain reminds us, "the primary duty of the modern state is the enforcement of social justice." Those who deny the duty of government to promote social justice - or who remain oblivious to the pervasiveness of continuing injustice in our society - are the real villains.