Memo to Congress: Cut the Crap About Capitalism (And Stop Pretending You Represent Us)
The "American people" you pretend to represent do not exist. It's all of us out here in the "real America" – you know, the one outside the beltway – who do exist. We work for a living, nurture our kids, support our schools, obey the laws you make, and, yes, pay our taxes. Meanwhile, the great majority of your kind (with a few notable and indispensable exceptions), enjoying benefits, incomes, and privileges our kind will never know, steadfastly refuse to speak for us.
You may have noticed that we are a very diverse society. This diversity is a great strength, except when it's not, like when it divides us so deeply and irreconcilably that we are paralyzed by it. What divides us as a people more than anything else now is ideology. Not religion, not race, not political affiliation, but ideology.
Watching Congress fumble, stumble, and sink into ever-deeper disrepute one could easily get the impression that the problem is partisanship: "Conservatives" and Republicans versus "Liberals" and Democrats. In fact, however, that's not the case since you've so mangled these words that they no longer have any real meaning.
So-called Tea Party Republicans using Fox News like a mass-media manure spreader are extremists incompatible with traditional conservatism in the U.S. Extremists in Congress now typically use the word "liberal" as a pejorative and absurdly label liberals as "socialists"! Terms that once framed our political discourse are meaningless, hopelessly stuck in the sludge of ugly propaganda and smear tactics thanks in no small part to such distinguished lawmakers as Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee in the Senate or Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Michelle Bachmann, and Steve King in the House.
You pretend to care about – and fight over – all sorts of phony issues. You don't really give a damn about affordable health care for the masses. You have given yourselves the best health care money can buy and we pay for it. You ballyhoo about "choice" and "death panels" and other red herrings that have nothing to do with the real reason you oppose what you dismissively and derisively call "Obamacare". This is but one of many examples of your hypocrisy and cynicism. Here's a short list of others and a lie that goes with it:
- Issue: Oil and gas. Lie: "fracking" is about energy independence.
- Issue: Global warming. Lie: there's no consensus among climate scientists that it's a problem.
- Issue: Gun control. Lie: The 2nd Amendment is about the inalienable right of private gun ownership.
- Issue: Campaign finance. Lie: The 1st Amendment requires Congress and the Supreme Court to treat corporations as people; giving money to politicians is a form of free speech.
- Issue: Corporate taxes. Lie: US corporations pay taxes at effective rates that are the highest in the world.
- Issue: Individual taxes. Lie: a low "capital gains" tax boosts economic growth; better to finance government with high taxes on "earned income" and payroll taxes.
If honest differences are not at the root of Washington's dysfunctional state, what is? In a word, capitalism. Not the concept we normally associate with "free markets" (a myth) or even market economies (the true science behind the myth). What extremists in Congress would have us believe is that "capitalism" – the ideology – is synonymous with market forces enshrined in the discipline of economics (often inaptly called the "dismal science").
Capitalism as it is used in the current lexicon of extreme partisan politics in Congress has nothing to do with economics. The extremists have hijacked the term to deflect public attention from the real motives behind the false rhetoric of freedom from "free markets" to "free speech". In so doing, they have polluted political speech and economic thought to the detriment of the nation.
Words are important. We can't think without language. True liberals and conservatives alike know that the absence of efficiently functioning markets is a prelude to economic catastrophe. And that's the key: efficiently functioning markets.
Markets for goods. Markets for services. Markets for ideas. And, yes, markets for votes. It's the marketplace where Adam Smith's famed "invisible hand" works it's magic, where the forces of supply and demand theoretically generate the highest quality goods at the lowest price. Now apply that principle to our politics, to the way we elect members of the august body called Congress, and to the pathetic spectacle it has become both in our eyes and the eyes of the world.
Too many of our leaders have led us astray for too long now. That goes for many Democrats as well as Republicans. Nowhere has the damage been greater than in the way they have distorted the language of politics and economics.
Capitalism is now an ideology pure and simple, with a propaganda boilerplate and patter all its own. It is used to camouflage the real truth, which is that Congress has sold out to corporate interests; that members of Congress are bought and sold in a behind-the-scenes market where votes and money are constantly traded; that America's megabanks and corporations do not believe in competition but obsessively seek market-distorting tax favors, subsidies, federal rulings allowing "venture capitalists" to gobble up or destroy competitors and drive small businesses into extinction.
As voters and concerned citizens we need to be clear that the "debate" over conservative versus liberal solutions is not only false but pernicious. Real liberals are no less dedicated to freedom and efficient markets than true conservatives – the ones, that is, without a host of hidden agendas that have nothing to do with macroeconomic theory and everything to do with microeconomic favoritism.
Economics is not a science dedicated to the enrichment of the 1%. It's also not simply about the 99%. It's really about the whole society. We all stand to gain from fair markets – ones that are truly competitive, where the playing field is not rigged to produce the same "winners" and "losers" every time. And that's the truth.
Readers are invited to add items to the list of issues and lies. It's not only a cathartic exercise; it's also vital to changing the way Americans have been conditioned by the purveyors of capitalist propaganda to think about politics and economics.