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Thursday, Jul. 26, 2001 at 8:38 AM
A fresh look at why we do not have free enterprise or democracy, but instead a morass of corrupt industry and politics, awash with dubious deals and reckless arrogance. Quality of competition in industry and politics steadily deteriorates, along with the quality of life, for most people and other natural species. While reigning rules of business and politics fan the degeneration, little can change for the better. People have endless reason for skepticism and protest, knowing there are better ways, far out of reach, or so it may seem.
Why This Free Enterprise Democracy Is Not
Those playing the blame game take as fair game blaming Republican ascension on stacked courts or Ralph Nader stealing victory from Al Gore. Nader predicted a cold shower for Democratic strategy, pushing Republicans into the embrace of the far right so others would have nowhere else to turn. For awhile this strategy almost worked, assisted by Ross Perot, at least to get Bill Clinton another term to play veto with the Gingrich Congress. That blundered away credibility enough to squander most of its gains. The Clinton popularity phenomenon was little help to other Democrats. Hence the spectacle of understudy Gore insisting on being his own man, arguably losing, while in Congress Republicans retained control, barely, only to squander the Senate by antagonizing their own moderates. Now if Democrats would find the nerve to stand up for principle, such a slim majority could not push anything drastically different through the gridlock.
This time Republicans got a little cleverer, refusing to concede moderate voters. As the Perot Party self-destructed, Nader became the threat media had to notice and downplay from the shadowy world of alternative politics. Gore did not pull off his game plan, build on Clinton mythology while keeping safe distance from the scandals. While Gore may have deserved to win, that it was so close means if he is the best candidate to be found, Democrats have no foundation to count on taking back the lost branches of government any time soon. They can try to ridicule the President with all his foibles, but such strategy is subject to backfire. Since Democratic reputation for standing up for principle is not good, leadership thought it better go chase the latest version of the center. This prolonged parade of conservative Presidents from both parties, dating at least since Kennedy, does not attest to popular will, but to the corrupting influences of big money and near monopoly on politics as mass media knows it.
One problem haunting Democrats, Clinton was more popular than his policies. Bill got by more on charm and cunning than substance, so got undeserved credit. The ballyhooed prosperity was not so hot for ordinary people or Nature. Stock markets had their famous bull run, but were languishing far off peak before this bizarre election. As speculation, mergers, and corruption ran wild, certain large corporations enjoyed heights of market share, profits, influence. Prominent on agendas of our established parties is competing for contributions, which means promoting the interests of such corporations, not average citizens. Democrats hoped common people would blindly flock to Gore since he claimed to be their champion, but that old credibility gap just keeps on growing.
Meanwhile freer trade, for some transnational corporations newly freed to wreak havoc with markets around the world, accelerated poverty as well as the pace of destruction of irreplaceable biodiversity, as drawing distinctions between these candidates vying to claim the center got more blurry. The centrist agenda is to tinker with moderate reforms, so the same old problems will stubbornly persist, assisting politicians to keep up their charade of wrangling over how best not to solve anything. Strange how Democrats expected to scare up great enthusiasm for business as usual by trying to inflate selective differences with Republicans.
Some of the differences were significant, maybe enough to give Gore the edge, if he had realized and emphasized that, instead of attempting to crowd Bush out of the elusive center. Clinton and cohorts pushed their centrist agenda far enough into Republican territory to backfire. Republicans know that territory better, so Bush could hold his ground well enough to seem a bit more sincere. Gore could be cleverer and better qualified, but also questionable on many issues inside and outside his association with Clinton.
The Democratic Party cannot claim to represent the common people. It has taken the position of the only alternative too long. That was never true, but now that is more apparent, with three elections in a row thrown by third party challengers. Once enough people realize the two party system is unresponsive, dysfunctional, slimy, dying, and good riddance, the customary election routine will crack wide open. That would force even mass media to pay attention, to cover newsworthy events for once.
The Free Soil Party defends the interests and rights of all people, as opposed to the powers that be. We especially seek to engage the imagination of unheralded election winners, nonvoters, again outnumbering voters for either big established party about two to one. If half these people thought they had a viable alternative, enough so to get them to take the initiative to vote, most elections would have unexpected results. It is that simple to give conventional wisdom fits. This could be a free enterprise democracy, but is far from it. In many ways it is getting no closer to what one might reasonably expect in a free civilized wealthy country.
People have to exercise their power, or it atrophies, defaulting to what we see, self-righteous representatives with their own agenda, to keep their greasy game going. Such ironic twists on language, as free trade meaning multinationals are free to expand their markets by whatever means they deem competitive. Rigged by international treaty, nations with provisions to defend the local environment, workers, or markets could be sued for restraint of trade violating GATT rules. In another brazen word twist, corporations rationalize taking over rivals to be more competitive in the world market. People have the power to take back not just ideas and the meanings of things, but also the power that belongs to the people in a real free enterprise democracy.
Not Nader nor the close race generated enough excitement to bring out any vast groundswell of nonvoters, though a good chunk of new voters voted for Nader. The media heaping scorn did its bit to stifle the Green message. Greens still have troubles with divisions over important issues, usual growing pains of an idealistic party struggling for cohesion and public attention. One of these divisions is over the meaning of social justice, whether to reform or gut capitalism. Nader leans to reform. He is a relatively moderate activist, no rabid revolutionary. Nader did get the attention of the media, so at least the Green Party is regarded as a threat worthy of scorn and misrepresentation.
Free Soil has its own ideas about all of that. Laws and regulations are bandages at best, showing over and over they cannot be trusted to police capitalism. Flaws in the definition have gotten manipulated too far to patch. Basic rules of doing business are twisted by the definition of profit, since the bottom line leaves out most issues of quality. The ideal free market means companies thrive by making products with better value, meaning better quality for the money, better deal for their customers, but not at the expense of workers or environmental quality.
Traditionally business models fundamentally oppose this ideal, promoting instead loose quality standards, mergers over competition, union busting, centralization of money and authority, revolving doors and winks between businesses and their regulators, and not last nor least, cutting corners that carelessly tamper with our health and environment. The theory of free enterprise breaks down if important industries are dominated by cartels. Competition can only work to the benefit of people other than high level management and stockholders when there is a lot of rivalry. Otherwise competition works not as advertised, but as manipulated.
Capitalism, like most systems, has its good points and bad points. It can easily succumb to degenerate principles, dog eat dog, since unfair competitive edges are encouraged, such as cheap or child labor; loose standards for health, safety, environmental impact; or taking over the competition. This noxious mixture of distortions, manipulated loopholes in the rules, magnifies their effect in a vicious cycle, over time taking its toll on the culture and quality of life. Devaluation of women and destruction of forests are classic examples. This skewing effect rends the free market into a hollow shell, overrun by contorted giants to the detriment of fair play, competition, people in general, and other living things.
No business or individual can be allowed to get away with murder, be it quick or slow. Businesses that dump or leak cancer causing chemicals are accountable, to clean up their procedures and messes they left rotting. While the planet may not appear fragile, natural chemical balances are, at least for the short term, a few generations at least. Ozone holes are already so bad, animals go blind in the far south, all because chemists who knew better were in no hurry to find a better chemical for refrigerant, lacking financial incentive. Too much of what passes for high technology is plain old crude tech, corrupt to the core and inefficient to boot. For intelligent beings, we can do some pretty stupid and vicious things. It is all the worse when the culprits have authority or money to throw around.
Biotechnology is a prime example, where abounds reckless unnecessary violation of the species barrier. Biodiversity is one priceless natural resource needlessly endangered by biotechnology. It is one thing to experiment in a sealed lab, but releasing impossible combinations of genes into the environment could ultimately threaten the genetic integrity, if not survival, of not just the experimental species but all the dependent food chains. Problems with invading exotic pests are bad enough. At least those usually have some natural enemy from the native habitat. These designer forms of life may be harmless confined to the machinations of their mad engineers, but not loosed upon this already radically frayed balance of nature we call Earth. Hot air spews about designer humans, but it's not far off.
Yet all this is a non-issue for the big parties; they both support this malformed infant of high tech, along with missile defense and other military and crude tech nightmares. Missile defense is a leading candidate for scam of the century. The science of offense in war is too far ahead of the science of defense. The gap has been widening since beings learned to throw rocks. It is the nature of that beast; the trend is inevitable. This is why the only apparent defense to nuclear attack is deterrence through MAD, mutually assured destruction. Since it requires insane thinking to commit suicide taking the rest of the world along, the best defense, short of destruction of all nuclear weapons, is prevention. Some dictators may be crazy, but not that crazy. There is now no country in the world that could defend itself against a massive conventional invasion, let alone any type weapon of mass destruction. Yet Congress, too arrogant to renounce first use of nukes, keeps on approving lots more cash chasing a missile shield that cannot work. Presidents of both parties have already spread uranium dust from spiked heavy artillery over the territory of defiant dictators. The United States is known to like to keep the nuclear option open, at least for purposes of intimidation
Democrats will look for opportunities to embarrass the new bosses; that might be a way to turn the tide in their favor, or there may develop greater public interest in alternative party politics. The nonvoters are the key, having such numbers as to easily sway any election, if something could get them interested in voting, like candidates that truly try to represent their best interests. Mainstream women's, civil rights, and environmental groups usually support Establishment candidates hopefully more reliable on a few critical issues, but that approach is stuck inside centrist boundaries. Trusting either good old boy network party to stand up for women or minorities, or to stop the mad scramble toward outright environmental revolt, is dubious at best, more likely misguided or foolhardy. The established institutions keep sway by effectively shutting out competition from better ideas, but it remains to be seen how long that grotesque presumption can survive the evolution of free speech on the Internet.
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