Thursday, July 22, 2010

Proving the pudding.

Warren G. Harding; if you listen to the Cato Institute he may have been the greatest president ever, because he's responsible for the great prosperity bubble of the "Roaring Twenties." Of course he was corrupt; his fingers found in the Teapot Dome scandal (proving that government involvement is always bad) and was noted for taking the presidential yacht down to Stuart Florida to fill it up with illegal booze run in the inlet at night from West End in the Bahamas. ( you wonder why these people hate government "intrusiveness?")

Bubble or prosperity? I'll leave it to the guys with the degrees to fight it out, but Cato Institute writer Jim Powell's assertion that the Depression originated in "too much government involvement in Business" is too slippery -- too oily ( to tease you with a metaphor) to let pass without comment.

The weasel word here is "involvement" and to make my discomfort with it shorter and easier to read, let me ask whether referees corrupt the game simply by enforcing the rules -- and whether having rules is necessary to differentiate between Football and Assault and Battery. See what I'm getting at? I hope so, because if I agree with the non-Cato premise that having slashed taxes for the very rich and permitted unregulated markets, a bubble was created in the late 1920's and because Wall Street was more like the wild west than it's been until recently, the bubble inflated and blew up, then you'll understand my confusion. Banks failed, businesses failed lives were ruined and books like The Grapes of Wrath attempted to get the message through to Cato types that these "cycles" and the unwillingness of Americans to suffer any aid given to anyone, created unconscionable suffering for millions and millions and set back our country by more than a decade.

Then as now, that suffering was blamed on the intrinsic laziness of the "inferior classes:" black people, immigrants, people who willingly are ill or injured or incapacitated. It's a premise somehow supported even by those who have now lost their jobs and are collecting unemployment much to the angry chagrin of conservatives calling themselves Libertarians.

But I digress. Can we talk about government involvement in business as though there were only one kind and all kinds are bad? No, I don't think so, but that's what they do. I think Cato is simply indulging in the fallacies of simplification, albeit more articulately than the average T-Party bozo who thinks his taxes have gone up and his guns snatched and people who control hedge funds, brokerage houses, insurance companies and banks, caused the credit crunch only because of "too much government." The kind of bozo who thinks safety regulations and honest regulators cause oil spills. Can it be that too much business involvement in government starts that vicious circle of corruption? Can it be that too much business involvement in government is a core value of the GOP?

Cato libertarianism assumes, and I think maliciously, that a playing field will not only exist but be level and remain level all by itself and it expresses that with a studied pose of innocence. After all a car or an airplane will self correct and remain more or less on course without a pilot. Pilots are bad because most accidents are the result of pilot error.

It assumes incorrectly that large concentrations of wealth that tip that playing field in their favored direction will not occur because entrepreneurs will always be able to compete with huge multinationals and break up their monopolies. It assumes, worst of all, that companies like Enron will be persuaded by competition to act honestly, their books smelling like roses and that the crimes of Arthur Anderson simply won't happen unless, of course, someone demands an audit and thereby corrupts their moral altruism.

No, the Great Depression wasn't ended, wasn't eased, but was perpetuated by things like the TVA and WPA and CCC that built infrastructure and kept many people working. Despite the statistics that show GDP and employment rising and falling with FDR's spending, it was ended only by the draft, says the Cato Institute's Powell to great applause from conservatives. Yet, somehow, the Vietnam and Korean War draft didn't have a similar effect, but not to be distracted, didn't the economic expansion continue after the troops came home looking for jobs, taking advantage of government housing loans, going to school on the GI bill, starting businesses and taking advantage of all that government spending? Maybe I'm off base, but the Cato scenario is set on a very bare stage and seems to need a few more props to be convincing. Could it be that all that government borrowing and spending on huge plants to make trucks, tanks, cars, airplanes, ships had a positive effect? could it be that massive government involvement in the electronics business and aviation technology and nuclear science and rocketry extending through the Cold War made the US the world leader? Can we speculate that the GI bill created the middle class we'd never really had before? I think we can and with more factual support than the other side with its austere and simplistic assertions.

After all, the First World War was followed by recession and perhaps because the troops got no support from Warren G. Harding who vetoed the whole idea that we owed them a damned thing because after all, "government involvement" is a bad thing and really, what have they done for us recently? No work, no food -- no handouts you lazy bum! ( now shut up while I buy booze at your expense and sell your property to the oil men.)

Ok, so I don't have degrees in all this stuff and nobody pays me to write -- especially not the people who pump the Cato Institute's output with all those corporate bucks, but I do have a simple question nobody seems to want to answer in a serious manner. If, there will be no crime in the absence of law; no crime in the absence of oversight and enforcement, why do we have a government at all? Assertions that we don't need one are not an answer, but an evasion. To be more specific, if oil companies can drill on our common property without having any safety rules imposed on them and if we must automatically grant the rights to do so without regard to when and where and how without "government involvement" why then don't we stop requiring airlines to inspect and maintain their planes, stop requiring prescriptions for drugs, close the schools, disband the police and fire departments, open the jails and let freedom ring? I really want to know.

I really want to know why if the Reagan and Bush tax cuts stimulated revenue growth and created jobs, don't the statistics show it? Why there were no new private sector jobs created during Bush's eight years? I want to know why public and private debt soared while private capital pumped the markets up to the bursting point and corruption spread like cancer. I want to know why the biggest and fastest growth of government size, expense and intrusiveness have occurred by preachers of the "government is always bad" gospel. I want to know why this pie of prosperity a la laissez faire mode has remained in the sky for nearly a century now and as the proofs of failure pile up over and over and over again, it's obscured by excuses, by repetition of doctrine, by scapegoating, stereotyping and creative slander.

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