Dear Smarty Pants
I’ve been thinking about trust. How its the bedrock of all relationships. I’ve been thinking about the economy and the environment and the way our business and political leaders have been minding them. I’ve been listening to all the pundits and economic forecasters posit on when things will return to “normal” and how restoring trust in the American financial system is vital for a recovery. And then I think about how it will not be in God or the status quo of this economy the we will put our trust in again but in ourselves — in We The People, as they say. At least I hope so. And if I could write Washington and its smarty pants think tanks a letter this is what it would say:
Dear Smarty Pants:
It is with great hope and enthusiasm that I write to say We The People will not be coming back. We are no longer interested in your systems. We understand that the entire premise of the economy (let alone our Democracy) has been co-opted by greed and avarice and nothing, not the new tunes of Washington, the old tunes of the republicans, the promises of corporations or the frail attempts to hem them in, will bring us back in the fold. Of course I know you are assuming We will forget what just happened but this time We, the disenfranchised, took too big a hit. We have had our eyes opened, our wallets emptied, our lives and dreams upended. As a result, We will not be looking to You anymore. But do not consider us the irrational fringe. Hardly. We, the people, are everyday folk and, as a group, are quite distinguished from the other everyday folks we’ve been seeing in the news these days. Not that We blame those folks, We just think they’re barking up the wrong tree.
We the People
As for those other people making the news these days, I find it compelling to watch and listen to them talk about how this administration has destroyed their future. I do not dismiss them out of hand because I know they are hurting but wonder why they still do not know who has inflicted the pain. Not to be patronizing, but you can wave as many American flags as you want or wear as many revolutionary costumes as you think is nappy (where the heck are you getting those?) but it will not change the fact that our big D democracy, and the economy that once served the people has long left the station. Sorry, but what we have now, in lieu of a the “land of opportunity” and a big D democracy, is a huge fire-breathing, take-no-prisoners global economy that invites very, very few players to the table. Imagining Republicans will set a place for them at the feast once they are swept into office is actually a little sad. But I understand why they do. Few of us know how the game is really played.
Not to overstate the obvious but few of us have internalized that this country is a capitalist economy first and a democracy second. We do not understand that as a capitalist economy we are given to certain rules that are not really kind on the democracies of We The People. Who can blame us? Really, how many of us understand how economies actually function? Other than managing our personal accounts, when do we think of it? Frankly its a dry subject. But not understanding how economies work is a huge problem and puts We the People at a huge disadvantage. It has allowed for the blood bath we have just witnesses. It has allowed mortgage brokers and credit card companies to have a hay day at our expense just because We simply did not know better. We did not understand what We were up against and We still don’t. Which does not mean We should go back to the fold but rather that it is high time to design a better system even though doing so might take a little rethinking on the matter. Unfortunately I think a basic lesson in economics is required before we can do that. Sorry if I’m sounding smug. I’m just thinking it might help.
Despite its assumed scientific and mathematical complexity, economics is simply the way to manage the production, distribution and consumption of goods. It is a system that manages the flow of resources. As defined by Webster’s — economics is about the distribution of limited resources among unlimited wants. I admit the unlimited wants part is part of the problem but still, quite apart from the hideously complex and deceptive financial tom foolery we are experiencing today, the system of economics suggest something a tad sight simpler then what we are witnessing. In fact, an economy can be the simplest of things. The barter system is an economy. Giving stuff away for free is an economy. Growing food and putting it up for your family is an economy. All of those things involve the production, distribution and consumption of goods. An economy does not immediately suggest currency must be involved. It can be reciprocal services if we want them to be. I know this sounds very basic but I think we dismiss the simply logic of this by thinking that real grownups must play in the real world of market economies. Not so. I think dismissing the alternatives as idealistic undermines the solutions we are looking for but the real point is, for most of the citizenry, the clouding of the primary function of a healthy economic system has done nothing more that convince us that it is all so much beyond our comprehension. And if they don’t shoot us back by saying we do not, cannot, understand how the real world of economics work, they do it by attacking our patriotism.
There is a certain stripe of naysayers that love to play the trump card. You know the card — Are you saying you’re a Socialist? A Communist? Don’t you believe in democratic free market economies? Ahhhh, I love that one. But here is the thing, political systems and economic systems are not one and the same thing. Though we have tied them together in some freakish shop for America consumer patriotism, our capitalist economy and democratic politics do not need each other to exists. Here again is a little primer. Sorry.
Political systems manage the way a society manages, monitors and protects (if we are lucky) the rights of a people. It is a deliver systems of rights while economics is a delivery system of goods and services. Democracies are a political system but only one of the many and not immediately required for a capitalist economic system to thrive. Case in point, China has a state-sponsored capitalist economy (puffing along a great speed I might add) but is governed by a communist political system. Sweden has a capitalist economy but is governed by a socialist political system (poor them – socialized medicine, subsidized child care for working families, ten week vacations – the horror). Which suggests, once again, that one economic system does not immediately suggest a particular political system. What it also suggests is that our tendency to fuse the notion of a democracy with capitalism is not only factually incorrect but has created a false conflict within the people who are feeling the hurt.
I can only explain the antics of the Tea Party on the fact that they really do not understand what is being done in their name. Certainly other folks are feeling the anger and the hurt of a system that has betrayed them but they are not looking at the same solutions. I think part of the motivation behind the Tea Party platform is this notion of betrayal — that the current administration has betrayed their democratic rights. But here again, I think the fusing of our political system with our economic system is to blame for this thinking. They simply cannot embrace the notion that their economy was in the tank way before this administration. I think they want to believe that a republican sweep will restore their lives and their big D democracy but this is little more than magical thinking. Not that I want to dismiss the tea party out of hand. I know it is the intoxicating but fading fable of upward mobility that is fueling the vestiges of diehard conservative faith in America today. At its heart it is the faith in a story that was once real, humble and true; a story founded on modest needs and social considerations. It is a story attached to an economy that was local, fair and distributive to the workers that went on line to move us forward as a great nation. But over the decades that once honest premise contorted into an orgy of profit taking and resource depletion that has landed us in the world of diminishing returns and crippling debt. It did not happen in these last two years. It did not happen over the last decade or with the current administration.
What I think they and many others in the soup of a busted economy do not really understand is that this is not a matter of a failed democracy but an eclipsed one. If wall street executives and brokers are getting their wages and bonuses restored while We the people are loosing our jobs, being thrown out of their homes and going to the food banks it is not because our democracy has failed us but that the economy has subsumed it. Remember, democratic systems and capitalist economies are not one and the same thing. Actually, they function by very different rules. As you may already know, capitalist economies, or the corporations that run them, must protect the rights of the stockholders not, We The People. Please repeat that last statement. Corporations must protect the interest of the stockholder not We The People. This is not just a ideological fact but a legal one. Corporations MUST protect the investor class and if We The People are getting swept under the carpet by that legal mandate then, well, that’s just the way the market works. That is how their economy works. Again, it is the economy stupid!
This is not the rant of some rabble rousing communist. This the rant of someone who feels incensed by the sloppy thinking and posturing of pundits and politicians in Washington as they talk about trust and the normalization of the economy. So let me add a little to my letter:
We, the people, understand that our economy and planet is in the tank as a result of a decades of economic malfeasence. We understand that the legislative representation of powerful economic players has thwarted our once noble big D democracy and allowed, in ever greater violation, the bad behavior We are witnessing. We understand that these policies have not been the work of We The People but an ever rarified cabal of bankers and financiers. We know that our American standard of living and all those big D democratic principles we thought ushered them in is gone. Republicans might like to point the finger at the current administration but that’s a lame gesture and We know it. It is not We the People they are fighting for nor our democracies. It is for the same cabal that has got us in the jam we’re in. Corporations, as the true task masters of Washington do not really care what happens to We The People. They are on to greener pastures, foreign pastures, consumers of choice pastures. We know that and you should all be ashamed.
We the People
You know it really frosts my ass the way politicians and pundits try to cram all this gobbly-goop down our throats. Hell, I don’t know if jumping ship from their system can work but I sure know their system won’t. At least not for We the People. Again, it is difficult to believe all this unless you do a bit of unraveling into how economies are structured (which takes a bit of work) but the notion that the Republicans will manage the monster better is just plain silly if not disloyal to the very people that are trying to sweep them into office. At least they should have the balls to talk turkey with them. But oh no. Where’s a musket when you need it?
Okay, here is the good news. I fully believe we the people, can restore our lives, democracies and economies on our own if (and it is a big IF) we are willing to unwind the myth of American privilege and power. We must stop pointing the finger at them and look to ourselves. We must look to our own mythologies and consider how they allowed for the demise of our once great nation and planet. We must let go of their story and find our own. We must be willing to unhook the notion that looking for solutions to our busted economy will render us socialists, communists or worse, a cockeyed optimist. We must do a little thinking about how economies really work and what sort of system we are looking to usher in. This will be hard work but it can be done. Need is the mother of invention. We can create new economies, small economies, home economies. That is where the real hope and trust will come from. First in ourselves and then beyond. And we will not need the those odd revolutionary costumes to do it. Our revolution, as they say, will not be televised.
Posted by Harriet Fasenfest at