There’s a famous saying in engineering, “it’s not a defect, it’s a feature!” Engineers aren’t the only ones that try this sleight of hand; it has become the standard for politicians describing economies. As far as I can tell, none of the purposes of an “economy” are served by the provision of means for the excessive accumulation of capital by anybody while others go wanting. When governments support and even promote economic systems that allow this defect to become perceived not only as normal, but as a positive feature, something has gone wrong.
This past year has seen failures of government around the globe. In Greece, Italy, Belgium, France, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Canada, and the United States, austerity budgets have been doled out by governments while corporate profits have hit record-breaking highs. The tax-paying citizenry has not failed to notice. Despite persistent, vocal, and widespread protests, governments ostensibly for and of the people have failed to respond in the people’s clearly stated interest. Instead, governments have opted to “stimulate” and support the very economies responsible for these conditions, and they are wrongly imposing austerity measures on their populations to compensate.
In a different incarnation, similar governmental failures are present in Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Iran, China, Thailand… Oppressive regimes have done little to relieve widespread poverty while crushing dissent and paving the way for a small few to accumulate extraordinary wealth and power. Again, the citizenry has not failed to notice. Uprisings and protests have done little to evoke meaningful change, and in some cases, have provoked murderous retaliation.
Now we are watching as Japan – a country with the most dazzling design and technical artistry – is suffering nuclear fallout. Only months earlier, its technological kin in the West, the great United States, had an entire coastline destroyed by an offshore oil leak. Both calamities could easily have been avoided if the governments of these modern “democracies” prioritized the safety, health, prosperity, and happiness of the people they serve rather than facilitating the piling of heaps of cash by a select few.
What is happening the world over is – as the 50,000 participant’s in Montreal’s March 12 demonstrated – “a question of choice.” Any fool can do the simple math required to understand that if we want a society with appropriate funding to do things right: proper safeguards on energy facilities, schools that teach everybody well, responsible industrial development that gives people opportunity for fulfilling employment and protects the environment that sustains our existence, hospitals that treat all comers, et cetera – we cannot simultaneously allow a tiny number of people to horde money. There really is enough to go around, if we have the will to ensure it is indeed redistributed equitably.
It is abundantly clear that the powers that be are not capable of making the decisions necessary to secure the well being of their citizens. This is either because they lack the intestinal fortitude required to take on the big bullies that pull the purse strings, or because they are those big bullies. Regardless, they aren’t what “Johanne the plumber” needs from government.
What irks me the most about this whole charade of governing “for the people,” is not that the purpose is corrupted. That goes without saying. It’s that these charlatans go so far as to tell us that the fundamental flaw of the economies they implement is, in fact, a feature: “you too can become filthy rich,” “you too can be the President one day,” “you too can dance with the stars.” This simply isn’t true. It is not possible for everybody to have excessive levels of wealth or power, but it is possible for all of us to have more than enough. We need governments that will end excessive accumulation of capital and excessive profits so that everybody can share in the wealth we all contribute to generating. Until we force them to make that choice, our governments will continue to aid and abet the liquidation of the public trust, in both its political and financial incarnations. ο