Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Uncommon Commonweal

Whither the commonweal? This nation has lost the shared sense of what is beneficial for all.

Perhaps as a boomer, I was deluded by relatives and teachers into the belief that it was a fundamental American drive. Up there in our love of liberty, our nation was characterized by boons and misfortunes together.

Now more often, it's "I've got mine. I'm keeping it. Go away!"

Most obviously and most disgracefully, we see it as I type in Congressional action to add upwards of a trillion dollars to the shared national debt to give the richest fraction of one percent of us undeserved tax breaks. Yet, that is only the grossest symptom of this dysfunction.

Transferring tax money to the richest is so reprehensible because its proponents base it entirely on a lie. Despite nearly a century of experience, they would have it that letting the filthy rich pay no or tiny taxes, these billions of dollars will immediately find their way into company investments in infrastructure and expansion. Then we millions of minions who actually labor to create the wealth for the wealthy will find ourselves showered with their largess.

Back to this nation on this planet in this universe, we long ago learned that such trickle-down economics are a scam and a sham. That pretext for waste was the bulwark of President Ronald Reagan's guns-and-butter debacle. This mythology includes the one about small businesses keeping our economy healthy with job creation. Examples abound of how these are patently untrue, while so many of us cherish the fairy tales.

Instead, egoism more aptly defines us as nation in this Great Recession. These straining times should be the catalyst for pulling together (think Great Depression and WWII). We should share the pain and struggle for a renewed nation. We should be literally and figuratively writing new folk tunes of our resulting triumph from our common effort.

Instead:
  • The richest families are on huge spending sprees — for personal property and goods — with their government windfalls
  • The richest corporations, including banks and their ilk, are hording cash, maximizing their interest returns with their windfalls
  • Most other companies, public and private, follow suit with the big guys and do not hire or expand
  • The remaining WWII and Korean War Era adults scream not to cut any of their benefits...to hell with all the following generations who have supported them for decades
Listen in Congress, hark to AARP's PR campaigns, and if you can take it, try winger radio and TV. They are united in not having a united United States. Give the haves whatever they want and pretend that all will be well.

Share the pain? Not in this lifetime and certainly not in this country!

This is our huge national disgrace, our malaise. We are not rowing together. We are not willing to help our fellow Americans. We are more like wild animals, dragging our share of the kill to our burrows. The others should have been faster or stronger or more vicious.

If the clich├ęs of character being what we are when no one's watching and when we face dangers are true, our national zeitgeist is ugly and nasty indeed. If we search about us and in the news very carefully, we can find inspiring tales of the goodhearted who watch out for their neighbors and larger community. Yet, those snippets wash away in the flood of selfishness and of disregard for the common good.

God help me, I do have some hopes. I recently cited George Price, who developed and expanded formulae supporting people acting for commonweal. Even more recently, I read the pop anthropology book, Sex at Dawn, in which the authors describe the evidence for and benefits to our hunter/gather ancestors of sharing and protecting each other.

I'm not enough delusional about this though. Our national tenor still leans heavily in favor of self-interest at the expense of others. Even the libertarian and Randist sorts tend to differentiate between watching out for what benefits you and intentionally harming others to get yours.

As a group, Congress and corporate America don't seem to get that.

This is precisely the time to work together, to do with less for the larger good. We do have those historic periods when we have done just this. We emerged from these as a stronger nation, with nearly all of us contributing to growth and common prosperity.

It is again time for the rich to share in the national discomfort. It is again time for corporations huge and wee to risk by hiring and expanding. It is again time for financial houses to invest in America.

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