Friday May 29

The Commons and the Danger of Misplaced Outrage

It is often asserted that “Timing is everything.” This is particularly true with regard to our unstable and undemocratic economy.

Our nation, enlightened in its founding is still driven by dominant economic class interests.

Throughout US history, wealthy, economic elites routinely trashed government when the economy would inevitably hit the skids and their power and privilege were threatened

The apologists in the media and the two major political parties would trot out the familiar anecdotal evidence about wasteful government and efficient private interests. It was repeated so often it gained the appearance of truth to justify this narrative.

That view presents the government as the root cause of our economic travails while aggrandizing the private sector.

Never mind that if it weren’t for government bailouts after the “Great Recession” in 2009 and the historical routine government purchases from the private economy, that private economy would tank in a Trump minute.

Scapegoating

President Ronald Reagan ushered in a new chapter of government scapegoating in his inaugural address in 1981: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

This warped perception of government as primarily dysfunctional and corrupt signaled a blistering attack on working people through neoliberal policies comprised of massive deregulations for business and financial institutions, deep tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, cutting programs that assisted working people, and relentless undermining of private and public sector unions.

Reagan set the modern stage for the oligarchy we now experience. The Trump administration continues that travesty by adding a tariff policy that threatens what remains of the manufacturing sector.

Certainly the Trump administration has surpassed the worst moral and ethical failures of any administration in our history. However, if we remove the Trump decay from the narrative, we are still left with the government as scapegoat myth.

It’s as if government has no relevant function except to spread waste, fraud and abuse. The Democratic Party, ostensibly the party representing working people is hardly distinguishable from the Republican Party in that regard. We expect the Republican Party, that has morphed into the party of the spiritually disabled, to denounce government. It’s the foundation of their strategy since Reagan adopted the plan concocted by Jude Wanniski known as the “Two Santa Clauses Theory.”

Democratic Party Not Much Different

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party ignores a narrative that shows just how crucial the government is in managing the pedestrian processes of the country. It is working people that do what is required to keep things going.

Overlooked is that these same working people often as union members are also experiencing similar deprivations as the economy continues to stagnate with widening chasms of wealth and income inequalities.

Placing culpability for a torpid economy on the government is clearly transparent scapegoating.

Federal, local, and municipal services and programs are decimated; working people are agitated to direct their outrage at the government. Remember when an outraged elderly fellow ranted at Republican Congressman Inglis at a political forum in 2009, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.” Really?

This view has repeated itself since 1994; it was a result of a cynical Republican strategy to sink healthcare reform. Just confuse the voters with an echo chamber of lies they will become unwittingly accepted.

Yes, they were accepted by many as caterwauling against government reached an astonishing crescendo. The outrage of those caviling against the government was amplified right up the 2016 elections.

Misplaced Outrage

However, shouldn’t we all be outraged:

The Commons

Government maintenance directly impacts the quality of life in our communities. We forget that the airways, the internet, our legal system, scientific knowledge, and research and development are also part of the “commons.”

The “commons” are our social organizations that provide services and protect elements of the environment that are owned and enjoyed by all residents. The colonial term to describe some states as “commonwealths” reflects that history.

The founders had basic, yet powerful, thoughts on the role of government and the commons. John Adams in 1776 in “Thoughts on Government” wrote:

“Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.”

Sweeping condemnation of government ignores the indispensable purpose of government that is the cement of our country by serving everyone.

The wealthiest in our communities do not have a constitutional, legislative, or cultural prerogative to line their pockets through privatization of the commons at the expense of middle and low-income working people.

That should outrage all of us.

BRUCE T. BOCCARDY is the Economics/labor advisor for the Small Planet Institute; former president, Massachusetts Service Employees International Local 888, former labor representative, Massachusetts Joint Labor-Management Committee, former consultant for National Association of Government Employees.

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