Monday, March 22, 2010

Week of 03/22/2010

The Slow Death of America
– by David Matthews 2

It was a glorious empire… stretching across much of the continent… providing marvels in architectural design, warfare, commerce, language, and government organization that would last for centuries.

I am talking, of course, about the Roman Empire.

There are many theories as to why this once-great empire fell, but most of them agree that Rome had simply become too big, too burdensome, and that it imploded as a governing body because it could no longer sustain its largesse. Every new conquest, every new war, every new battle had to be sustained by every new tax it assessed. Every new territory it conquered needed more people to govern it and more troops to keep it, which meant more money it needed to pay for it all. All of this did not come for free.

Governments can either collapse or they can be conquered and assimilated. It doesn’t matter how many armies it raises, how many wars it wins, or how many times it fights off invasion, if it sticks around long enough then it will eventually succumb to its greatest enemy: itself.

And thus we stand here in the United States… over two-hundred years old… threatening to go the way of the Romans. Our infrastructure is collapsing upon itself. Problems that need to be fixed are not because they are mired in political games. Jobs are being lost, businesses are collapsing, the economy teeters at the brink of total collapse, and that time that politicians said would NEVER happen… namely when Social Security would start calling in their IOUs from Congress… has finally started to happen.

On a local level, streets and bridges are falling apart. The money isn’t there to fix them. Schools are closing. Local government workers are being furloughed. Essential services like police, fire, and rescue services will eventually follow.

Meanwhile politicians at all levels of government are claiming that everything is fine and under control. Sure times are tough, and they’re only going to get worse later on, but it’s okay… they got it covered.

No doubt their Roman counterparts said the same thing centuries ago.

But while it is popular to blame government for being too big, too bulky, too burdensome, too bureaucratic, too corrupt, and too self-serving, it is another thing entirely to actually DO something about it. It doesn’t matter which of the two dominant political parties or which of the dominant political sides we elect, it’s still nothing but empty political rhetoric. Much like human flatulence, it’s all stench and very little substance.

The people at the libertarian-based Reason Foundation have been running an ongoing series about how they would save a city like Cleveland, home of libertarian celebrity Drew Carey, and their continual message is that cities like Cleveland are imploding because of too many regulations, too many bureaucracies, too many taxes… in other words, too much government. They compare Cleveland’s 22 various zoning categories to Houston’s simplified “land use map” and declare Houston to be better. They point to privatizing certain non-essential government services, as were done in Chicago and Indianapolis, and declare these to be good. They point to charter schools in Oakland and declare that to be better than the taxpayer-funded education system.

Unfortunately, “simple” does not necessarily mean “better”. Every time we talk about cutting the scope and scale of government, it has always come back to bite us in the ass. And, equally unfortunate, as the maliciously mercenary habits of big corporations demonstrated in recent years, privatized institutions are no better than the taxpayer-funded ones. We let the big banks and the Wall Street masters of the universe run wild and we SAW what the end result was!

We’ve spent billions on tax money that we don’t have to try to supposedly “fix” the implosion. Money for tax breaks, money for government projects and government programs, money for infrastructure, but the implosion is still ongoing. The threat is still there, despite all the rhetoric falsely claiming that we’ve been “pulled back from the brink”.

We are still going the way of Rome, and this commentator really doesn’t know if there is a way we can hold it off. If there IS a way, though, it will have to be more than just blindly throwing money about and making boastful claims of a recovery that hasn’t yet happened.

Let’s get brutally honest here… we don’t just need LESS government. We need the RIGHT KIND of governing. We need BETTER governing as well as SMALLER governing.

Cities like Cleveland did not become bureaucratic behemoths overnight, and they certainly didn’t come about in a vacuum. The city got twenty-two separate zoning designations because someone wanted an exemption from the current designations, and then someone else wanted their own exemption, and so on and so forth. Every regulation, every regulatory body, every law and ordinance and department requiring taxpayer money can be traced to SOME kind of need or SOME kind of outrage that the system did not cover. And simply CUTTING those regulations and designations and taxes will not address the problem. That perceived “need” will once again reassert itself; and often it will do so at the most inopportune time.

Big sporting arenas and convention centers DO NOT translate into jobs! Cleveland found out the hard way that bringing those in did not mean that the people that would show up there would patronize the jobs in the communities, especially when the sporting arenas and convention centers would line up their own shops and restaurants.

Short of completely revamping the tax system, and having to work with the government already in place, it needs to be crystal clear that tax breaks or bailouts for businesses MUST be used to bring in jobs. Some communities are already revoking earlier breaks when businesses break their word. This needs to be the rule everywhere, not the rare exception here and there.

Yes, communities need to look at privatization where possible. But again, it needs to be done SMARTLY. Also serious thought needs to be placed on decriminalizing some of these non-violent consenting moralist-created crimes. Hemp, which is the NON-DRUG version of the cannabis plant, was once potentially considered to be a billion-dollar industry before it was outlawed to benefit the paper mills. Can you imagine the taxable income if that was legalized again?

Leadership at the top… namely those in Washington… is a start, but any recovery needs to come from the BOTTOM up. It needs to come from JOBS! Not jobs in other countries. Not corporate handouts which then translate into executive bonuses and excuses to outsource even more jobs to other countries. You have to focus on MAIN STREET, not WALL STREET! Cities need to work on bringing PEOPLE in, not corporate-sponsored skyboxes.

For those of you who have had your heads firmly up the colon of big government, here’s how it works: when people are employed and they are secure in knowing that their jobs will be there for them, THEN they will look at buying things like cars and homes. THEN they’ll start looking at getting that new HDTV and that new living room set. THEN they’ll start at looking at getting that new computer system that they’ve so longed to have. THAT improves the economy and encourages even more growth. THAT generates the tax revenue that you so desperately covet.

What happens when the jobs are not there? Then people make do with what they have. They WILL NOT buy that new HDTV. They WILL NOT look at new homes. They WILL NOT look at replacing their living room set or getting that computer system. They will, instead, be forced to spend every penny they have making do with what they have and getting only the essentials. In other words, you LOSE the tax revenue that you so desperately NEED to pay even for VITAL services.

And by the way, this applies not just to the ONE-IN-TEN that are currently on unemployment assistance, or even the ONE-IN-FIVE that are either not covered by assistance or else are under-employed, but also to the vast MAJORITY of the people who are currently working who are now fearful that they will also lose their jobs. They too will cut back. They too will forego spending the money on new cars or new homes or new furniture or new anything. And again, you will LOSE the tax revenue that you so desperately NEED to pay for even those VITAL services.

And it doesn’t end. If things are not changed, it only gets worse, because then when even MORE people spend less and have less money to spend, that makes the economy even worse. That forces businesses to retreat even further and make more cuts and more sacrifices and more layoffs, and that only feeds the cycle again and again.

Just giving money to corporations doesn’t fix the problem. We saw that with the big bailout of 2008. Big Business gave themselves bonuses with the money and then carried on like nothing happened.

You can have all the press conferences you want to. You can hand out all of the bailout money and tax breaks you want to for big corporations and fulfill their every fiscally-erotic fantasy of big arenas and convention centers. But as long as you forget that the bottom line rests with MAIN STREET and not WALL STREET, your talk will be nothing more than flatulence.

The Roman Empire fell because Rome believed it was all about itself. If their modern-day counterparts here in America wish to prevent history from repeating itself, then they need to remember that the quest for a “more perfect union” does NOT limit itself to the rich and the powerful.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

What we need is a more moderate path between big government and anarch-capitalism (which is just trading one master for another).