The truths we used to hold to be self-evident are so two centuries ago. We’ve got new truths now, conceived in think tanks and dedicated to the proposition that rich people need more money. Government is the problem. Taxes are bad. Regulation needs to get out of the way of business. And this will lead to prosperity. That’s the narrative we’re being sold, and a whole lot of us are buying.
How’s that working out for us?
A few of us are very prosperous indeed. Many of us are much worse off. The middle class has declined. Our natural world is despoiled and its systems on the verge of collapse. Our resources are dwindling. We’ve been at war for years, and we’re barking for new wars.
This isn’t my notion of prosperity.
Maybe what they’re selling us is fake goods. Maybe government and taxes and regulation aren’t really the problem after all. Maybe it’s time to yank the narrative back, by telling the truth.
What is this nasty old Government, anyway? Well, we’re trying an amazing experiment here. We declared we are the government: we the people. We gave limited power to those we elected to represent us. We have banded together to achieve for ourselves that which we cannot achieve on our own. Do we want clean water and clean air? Do we want safe food and educated children? Do we want to provide for our defense sensibly? Do we want to share the donuts or give them all to the fat guy? We’re in charge. If we’re not getting what we want, it’s up to us to change things.
But we’re easily swayed. We’re hanging onto all these myths from back when we could head out and homestead all the land we could steal. We’re rugged individualists; we’re cowboys. We think we can do just fine for ourselves if The Government would just leave us alone. But there are more than 320 million of us cowboys now and no place left to dump the trash. We need to be careful.
So the next time someone goes full Bundy on us and declares the government the enemy and demands that the land be given back to We The People [sic], remember that government land is our land, and the people who want it for their own purposes–to run cattle on, or mine, or drill, or clear–do not care about ours.
Regulation? It’s not there to thwart enterprise. It’s there to do an accounting of the true costs of business. Go ahead and grow your business as much as you want, but you don’t get to skate on the garbage bill. If you pollute, or you endanger, or enslave, or misrepresent, or cheat, you have to answer to us. Regulation means your bottom line might be somewhere different from where you’d like it, but we’re all under the same sky, and someone’s always downstream. There’s a cost to everything, and if we run our economy without accounting for all of it, we’re letting pirate ships sail away with our treasure.
So we regulate. When we strip away regulations, we give more to those who have too much already, while we pick up the tab. When we lower everyone’s taxes, we discover ourselves without what we need, just to further enrich those who need nothing.
Do we want clean drinking water at the tap? Then that is something we should keep in the commons. We hire people to make it happen–they’re called government workers–and we pay them. Government workers are not our enemies. They’re the people we pay to do the things we want done, that we can’t do by ourselves, at no profit.
Right now, the shrink-the-government crowd prefers to use our taxes to pay private outfits to do the things we want, so they can profit. Water. Power. Prisons. Schools. Even our war-making is delegated to mercenaries, with Blackwater and Halliburton raking in the billions. The already-wealthy want ever more of our treasure, and that’s who’s running the show.
That’s because a few people with great wealth have an outsized effect on what happens in our name. But it doesn’t have to be so. We are the people, and if our government is not doing what we want, we can change it. Our power is in our numbers, and our will, if we exercise it.
What could we accomplish if we banded together? Could we be as powerful as Walmart?
Walmart, the largest private employer in the world, became the behemoth it is by hacking the middle class off at the knees. It arranged for products to be made in low-wage countries with low environmental standards, and then insisted our local manufacturers cut wages and benefits or lose their market. They led the charge to the bottom. Their prices were so low they wiped out smaller local businesses. Now they are so powerful that they can bargain for lower pharmaceutical prices and everyone thinks that’s a good thing. But we the people can do that too. If we the people got together to provide for our own medical care by adopting single-payer insurance, we could negotiate our own drug prices and the costs of our procedures.
True, the for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical industries would take a huge hit. True, we wouldn’t enable six human beings named Walton to have more wealth than the bottom 40% of the American people. But we’d have health care.