Wednesday, August 27, 2008

On a serious market democracy?

Here's something that's been bubbling up in me for a long, long time. I have friends who are very, very conservative. One of them, my friend since childhood, visited not long ago. We've jousted over the years on issues and always felt a spirit of camaraderie anyway. Another is a woman who is more on the right than I am on the left. Now, I mention them because I have been listening to and reading comments for a long time about free-market capitalism, of which these friends are adherents, and a comment at the Daily Kos focused it a little more sharply for me today. I have to ask, then: which is more important, this country or the free market?

I hate to impugn anyone's patriotism. God knows I've been on the receiving end of that for years as a liberal, which (thanks to Fright Wing media manipulation ever since Reagan) has become synonymous with radicals, terrorism, and anarchy. But I honestly wonder when Adam Smith free-market capitalism became synonymous with America.

Since when does the United States Constitution prevent regulation and direction in the market? Both Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin expressed deep misgivings about the excesses of capitalism and its threats to a truly free society. As it is now, after 19 years of Republican rule (27 if you count Clinton, the proto-Republican), we have determined that in terms of maintaining a free society, free market capitalism does not work.

What got me to write about this was the AT&T party for "Blue Dog Democrats" during the Dem convention. Rep. Steny Hoyer denied that it had anything to do with Congress having given immunity to telcos from civil suits over FISA violations, but that's a lot like saying the water is not the reason you're going into the swimming pool. This is just the latest example of massive corporations having bought the American system entirely, reducing the voters to simply approving one or another choice supported by Big America, Inc.

The response, as I have heard from Smith capitalists, is that as long as corporations and people have the money, they have the right to do with it as they will. I do not agree. Nothing in the Constitution says you have the right to subvert the democratic process because you have wealth. Nothing gives a corporation the right to despoil the environment for future generations. No one has the right to pollute our air and water for the simple love of excess.

Jefferson wrote that the American government was to provide for the common welfare. Today, as jobs have moved overseas, as our environment turns into garbage, as judges maintain that "free speech zones" ("freedom cages") are entirely legal, as media corporations determine the news that moves out to us, as transnational corporations suckle off the American tax dollar without paying taxes in return (Halliburton, I am talking to you), as all of our lives are bought and sold for cheap by soulless corporations, it's time to ask: Which is most important to you...your country or the free market?

They aren't one and the same.

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