A Reader Criticizes My Ackerman Article

criticOK, so the reader was me (in the comment section of my Ackerman article). Still, the criticism seems important enough to post here as a new blog entry:

“Don: The trouble with what you’ve written here is that you make it sound like government is really running just fine.

But we’ve all just lived through a year of economic meltdown — with huge giveaways to banks at taxpayer expense — and the most dysfunctional health care debate you could imagine. We face the prospect of so-called health care “reform” that may end up being a huge giveaway to health insurance companies. Several generations of Americans now face the prospect of unsupportable deficits.

And before last year, we had eight of the worst years in our history, leaving our Constitution severely tattered.

Our current president — a Constitutional scholar — is continuing some of the worst policies of his predecessor.

So, sorry, but I don’t buy your praise for the excellence of government.

Here’s how I’d refine what you said:

In our modern era, there are two huge actors doing battle on the world stage: governments and corporations.

Corporations are like leviathans driven by one goal, and one goal only: profit.

Governments, on the other hand, in this era of democratic ascendancy, exist — or are supposed to exist — to serve the interests and the will of their citizens.

The key point is that in this battle of giants, only governments have — or potentially have — sufficient power and authority to reign in the greedy excesses of corporations, which have shown themselves unable to self-regulate.

And the conservative idea that the market will restrain the excesses of corporations is now totally discredited.

Thus the world faces two stark choices:

(1) An increasing drift toward corporatocracy — the complete takeover of government by corporations (we’ve gone dangerously far in this direction already), or …

(2) A return of government to democratic control by its citizens, for the purpose of improving their lives in a myriad of ways.

Complicating this struggle — at least in the US — is the ascendancy during the last thirty years of a huge conservative propaganda machine (think Fox News), which continues to promote a number of stark lies: the market will restrain corporations, socialism is bad, health care reform must necessarily be socialistic, government can’t do anything right.

It’s that last one — government can’t do anything right — that you took issue with above, and you’re right to take issue with it. But what you failed to point out is that it is a kind of self-fulfilling statement.

To the extent that government has been taken over by conservatives who preach that government is dysfunctional while they deliberately perform badly in office (“Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job“), the meme becomes a fact. There’s a long tradition in our country of appointing industry hacks to the regulatory agencies that are supposed to restrain their sphere of business. This has always had the effect of weakening the regulatory agencies (to the benefit of corporations).

Thomas Frank describes this process brilliantly in his book, “The Wrecking Crew”.

So, bottom line, I agree with you that the constant rhetorical attack on government is insidious, but not — as you imply — because it is false, but rather because it is self-fulfillingly true.

The constant knee-jerk attack on government as the primary bad actor on the world stage, serves the radically greedy interests of corporations.

In our modern struggle, corporations grow stronger precisely to the extent that governments grow weaker.

You always have to ask who benefits from bad-mouthing and effectively weakening government? As the old saying goes, “follow the money.”

The best hope for “we the people” is to reclaim the promise of our founders, and behave like the powerful citizens that we are.

To do that, we must see through the “government-is-always-bad” meme.

To make government good again, we must believe in its power to do good.”

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