Sunday, November 10, 2013

US political economy: less "capitalism", more "capitalized tragedy of the commons"

This started out as a vent, then started developing into something long-winded, dry, and pretentious (think: intellectually speaking, a very low end master's thesis).  Time to return to its roots as a vent.  My spleen needs some venting. :)

Though if someone wants to draw intellectual inspiration from this, they're free to do so.  Just don't pull a Rand Paul and copy some of this verbatim and without attribution. :)

The "official" definition of "tragedy of the commons", courtesy Princeton University -
The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long-term interest for this to happen.

Many societies, including ours, have collectively decided that certain costs should be shared by society as a whole because they are "public goods", available to be consumed by all.  A prime example of this is national defense.

As our society has grown ever closer to the limits of its available resources, a certain, politically influential segment of society (for brevity's sake, let's refer to that segment as "the 1%") has worked to alter public policy in ways that serve to turn public goods, which benefit all, into private goods, for the benefit of a select few.  Short-term profits must be maximized, even if their policies bring long-term harm to society,

We see this phenomenon manifesting itself in many ways, but it usually occurs when accompanied by the battle cry of "privatize!", of declaring that "government" is the root of all of America's economic woes and that all would magically get better if only "government" would get out of the way of private entities' quest for ever more profit.

Witness President Ronald Reagan's first inaugural address in 1981, wherein he declared that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

Or witness Grover Norquist, conservative icon and head of the lobbying group Americans for Tax Reform, with his stated goal to "to cut government in half in twenty-five years to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

Or witness the unceasing attacks on public education, public employees, and public service in general.

Whether it is efforts to privatize prisons, public education, national parks, Social Security, roads, and pretty near anything else that somebody (who usually makes campaign contributions to the relevant electeds) thinks that they can make a profit from.

Of course, once they are given the opportunity to profit from what were previously public goods (and services are "goods" for the purpose of this post), they immediately seek to maximize and guarantee those increased privatized profits by increasing the price they charge to the public for the goods (that were previously the public's), decreasing the quantity or quality of the goods provided, or to demand a public subsidy to continue providing that previously public good to the public (i.e. - private prison contracts with guaranteed occupancy rates).

In short, every time someone argues that that some part of society's functions should be "privatized" to enhance "efficiency", the only thing that they want to see become more efficient is the transfer of public resources into private pockets.

Many of the electeds who support these privatization and other related moves cite aiding the creation and maintenance of a "healthy business environment", even if the moves that they support work to degrade the long term economic vitality of our society (i.e. - protecting tax breaks for companies that move jobs and operations overseas).

They ignore the fact that a healthy business environment seems to be a byproduct of a healthy society, not the other way around.

And when they do things like let Wall Street lobbyists write bills to weaken the already weak regulations applied to Wall Street and other financial industry firms, it kind of makes it look like that they are *willfully* ignoring the impact of their moves upon society at large.

I don't pretend to know how to change the ingrained economic predatoriness and arrogance of the 1%'s subculture but we can do something to ameliorate the impact of the attitude, and the behavior that goes along with it.

We can elect public officials who take public service seriously, and un-elect those who sell out their constituents to the highest bidders.

Bob Lord at Blog for Arizona has written a series of posts on economic inequality in America.  While the subject isn't an exact match to this one, it is closely related.  Even more importantly, he's a good writer and his posts are worth of a read.  They can be found here.

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