Monday, November 19, 2012

Fiscal Policy and Fiscal Politics: Is There Hope for the U.S.?

The Unperson.
Because it was an election year, throughout 2012 I admittedly became obsessed -- like countless others -- with fighting the possibility that Mitt Romney might become president of the United States. Further, I had hoped against hope that Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, Dick Armey, and the Club for Growth wouldn't be allowed to take money from the likes of the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adleson, Bob Perry, Foster Friess, Harold Simmons, and the rest of the billionaires club and turn it into a permanent funding source through super PACs to crush democracy as we know it.

Mitt Romney was defeated, and the super PAC money looks to have largely failed to have much influence. If anything, the 2012 election proved that, for now, bullshit talks and money walks. Who knew?

We are still, however, largely a country at the mercy of moneyed interests, and the fundamental failure of our government to provide the kind of advanced services most mature democracies provide is evident everywhere. We should, as an advanced democracy, be providing the following:
  • A strong, mandatory savings program that provides for a proper pension for every citizen in his or her retirement.
  • A strong and secure disability system, for all citizens, not just veterans, who because of illness or injury are unable to contribute to the welfare of themselves and others.
  • A comprehensive, single-payer healthcare system that allows no citizen to fall through its cracks, that recognizes healthcare as not only an individual right but also tacitly accepts that a healthy society is a productive one.
  • A robust set of programs that provide research and development in a range of endeavors, from medicine to sciences to technology.
  • An employment program that makes sure those who are unemployed have sufficient income to maintain basic human needs, while seeking to train or otherwise reemploy those out of work.
  • A welfare program that provides food, living expenses, and shelter to citizens in times of need.
  • An educational system, from preschool through college, that offers the opportunity for all citizens to learn about our country's history, culture, mores, and traditions, and that of the world in general, as well as the opportunity to garner skills that allows each and every citizen to contribute to the well-being of themselves, their families, and the society in which they all live and prosper.
  • A program of public works that builds infrastructure such as roads, bridges, harbors, and port facilities and refurbishes and replaces obsolete water, sewer, and gas lines throughout the nation.
  • A system of laws and courts that encourages due process and equal protection to all citizens without fear or favor.

The Netherlands has all of the above and high wealth and productivity.

Are we providing all of the above? As a country among the community of nations we've made strides in some realms, but our attempts in many areas are weak and, frankly, embarrassingly limited. We are not a mature state. Many nations in the developed world easily outpace us in proper government services, and the health and welfare of our citizens show it. Why is that?
  • Americans have a longstanding tension between individualism and communitarianism. Because of this, we are prone to adopting distorted public policy, which leads to many ineffective programs.
  • Americans are, in so many areas of life, including education, energy, healthcare, consumer and environmental protections, worker safety, and labor laws, at the mercy of moneyed interests.
  • Religion and religious institutions and traditions have had a deleterious influence on the goods and services available to Americans from both the public and private sectors. Religious views have had an undue stranglehold on the proper development of a secular government as originally envisaged by the founding fathers.
  • Americans have yet to recover fully from the specter of our early years of prospering by a race-based, legal system of slavery. We all share and participate in a heritage, wrought by history and its aftermath, of racism, savage inequities, and cultural tensions that roil our civilization to this day. This heritage is not confined to our feelings about African Americans but also shapes our feelings toward newcomers and immigrants to our shores. Every race and culture has undergone this tumult, from the Irish to the Italians to the Poles to Hispanics, in every decade of our existence. Slavery was only the original and greatest cause of the rift that extends to this day throughout our society.

Yes, it did look just like this. This was the slave trade.

The 2012 election was only the latest demonstration of the tensions and rifts that divide our country and limit our ability to develop as an advanced nation. Just look at what divides our electorate:
  • The chasms between the rich and poor.
  • The clash between urban and rural cultures.
  • The divide between our original white, Anglo-Saxon roots and the groups of minorities that are driving white America to become a subset of political power and influence.
  • The struggle for women to achieve parity in nearly every realm of life: in the home, in the workplace, in education, government, and the development and implementation of public policy.
  • The struggle by men -- to a great extent by white, Christian men -- to adapt and grow into willing participants in a diverse society not constrained by racial, religious, cultural, ethnic, and gender divides.
Copenhagen, Denmark: progressive, productive, wealthy. Also big-ass safety net.

Yes, all of these currents flowed through the dialogue of the 2012 election. Almost no corner of American life was spared the consequences of this dialogue, though little, if any, progress has been demonstrated. There are currents of hope running through our country, and I haven't even begun to talk about the area of foreign policy that these beliefs and struggles have such a powerful influence on. This discussion has mainly focused on domestic policy and the development of a proper role for government in the daily lives of the citizens of what is without question a great, if imperfect, nation.

The election of 2012, at least on the federal level -- and, from my perspective, in state governments, especially those of California, Washington, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, and Maryland -- was a vindication, albeit a distinctly limited one, of the forces for social justice. It is far from a game-set-and-match-style victory. To stay with the tennis metaphor, 2012 was something of a hard-fought 7-6 fourth-set win that has staved off defeat at the hands of reactionary forces. Can we -- the social communitarian elements of our nation -- hold on for an early-21st-century final-set victory?

San Francisco: progressive, productive, wealthy. Safety net? We're getting there...

Stay tuned. The American Human is dedicated to finding out and, if possible, influencing the outcome. The health and heart of any great nation rests on the cornerstone of philosophy, morality, religion and its derivative culture and tradition. But its construction rests on fiscal policy. In the end, money does indeed talk. Thankfully, for now, it wasn't Karl Rove's.

No comments:

Post a Comment