Liberty is a dangerous ingredient in any political experiment. Heat it up slowly by preaching “Democracy” to the uninitiated and fold in some poorly controlled “free” enterprise, otherwise known as “Capitalism,” and you have a social concoction as volatile as nitroglycerin. In this unique biosphere where humans have learned that only the fittest survive over the short run, unenlightened citizens of many countries seek freedom to destroy themselves.
There are no predators of the human race better than we ourselves! Our leaders preach whatever occurs to them, hoping to maintain a political situation that rewards their questionable leadership. The rich try to buy the highest degree of freedom (i.e.: no interference from any government agency) to prolong their advantage of possessing capital. Meanwhile, the poor and disadvantaged are scuffling (with themselves mostly) to offset the power of the wealthy with threats of violence or violent acts.
Do you Recognize reality yet? Need I name names and repeat obvious facts to prove my contentions? Nixon, Clinton, Enron, Arthur Andersen, bin Laden, Hussein, Microsoft, large company CEOs, …had enough? We Americans, witnessing the nastiness of life shown us by alert, discriminating media editors guided carefully by their advertisers, are appalled by what we see and hear about the horrible events taking place all over the world and occasionally in our own sacred territory. “Who is doing something about this,” we ask. Who has the responsibility for all this unhappiness? Why are foreign people so angry, so full of hate, so violent? Can’t that social turbulence be modulated, the evil leaders eliminated, and the ancient animosities negotiated?
If I told you, “No,” would you read any further? If you are intelligent and optimistic you might expect to read, “Maybe.” If you are cynical, you would expect me to answer, “No,” or you will automatically criticize my dishonesty. And rightfully so, because the truth isn’t somewhere in between “Yes” and “No.”
We tend to ignore the lessons of history. Our own country’s existence is the result of enterprising, disadvantaged people exercising their limited liberty to revolt and exploit the opportunities and resources that the distant, inept, insensitive British government surrendered to aggressive risk-takers.
“Manifest Destiny” was the excuse for plundering. Our modern superpower status is supposedly the result of our revered democracy and capitalism. How else do you explain our material success and the relative peaceful environment we enjoy in the United States? Shouldn’t we be exporting our way of life, our institutions, our formula for success and world domination? Shouldn’t we be defending our country’s interests above all?
Of course we should! We want others to improve their miserable circumstances with our guidance, don’t we? How else are we going to keep them from creating dangerous regional conflicts that may eventually involve us? And recently have! Isn’t it time we take another trip to the moon to get a better perspective for evaluating alternative proposals to help mankind salvage itself and the biosphere we inhabit?
I won’t go into trying to protect the habitats of all creatures, although that certainly is an important issue to some of us. Maybe the most important one. I merely would like to reflect on why democracy and capitalism are not the solutions to the world’s social and economic problems that our politicians say they are. Plato has already written about what form of government might be better, so I won’t go there.
Most of us picture democracy and capitalism in their simplest, idealistic form: a sincere majority voting for some improvement to society that benefits everyone, and a small entrepreneur who has worked diligently to save enough money to start his own small business. We refuse to acknowledge the scheming reciprocity amongst legislators, the pressure tactics of lobbyists, the legal exceptions for special interests buried in the small print of voluminous regulations, the favoritism deliberately placed in the revisions to tax codes, and the notorious “earmarks” because we have no power to change the “way things are done.” Likewise, we impotently complain when Big Business leaders carry out their devious plans to steal technology, misrepresent their wonderful products in glamorous advertisements, and avoid product liability through ambiguous, limited warranty contracts.
We are shocked from time to time when we read the details of exposes about political leaders trapped by their disregard for the law and the system of checks and balances. We are particularly outraged when we discover that we are the actual victims of sharp business practices. Still, we believe our political/economic system is the best in the world today. Consequently, we accept our leaders’ aggressive policies to promote our very complex form of democracy to foreign leaders and to expand our domineering capitalism abroad via IMF and World Bank financed investments.
The consequences of over-population in small and large countries creates poverty. Inadequate sources of food, medicines, and jobs, and prohibitively high priced technology maintain the current global situation. UNICEF estimates that 80 per cent of the world’s population lives in conditions that they consider as “poverty.” No form of government is going to eliminate poverty, since any definition of poverty is relative, and the poorest citizens will always be unhappy and desirous of changing the income distribution mechanism in place.
Redistribution of land and wealth attempted by central governments are inadequate means to achieve equality of talent, education, and ambition. We may not like to face homeless beggars on our local streets, but the underlying social/economic volatility that fosters homelessness can never be completely eradicated. And this hopeless situation is far worse in the so-called “developing countries.”
Giving the uneducated and poor the right to vote is giving them virtually nothing of value. Even in our country, many cynical voters stay home on Election Day feeling that the process doesn’t promote their objectives. Representation of so many voter constituencies by so few elected candidates is ludicrous.
Giving large doses of financial aid to badly managed Third World Countries who are likely to renege on their debts in the next local economic downturn is foolish. This doesn’t help build a sound, broad business environment of small entrepreneurs when they can’t borrow money because they have no collateral and can’t establish a line of credit.
On the other hand, in the more advanced capitalism in America today, there is so much consolidation of assets going on that the small “mom and pop” businesses are closing their shops or going through bankruptcy. Can we assume that small businesses are going to thrive here and elsewhere? Can they compete tomorrow with the Wal-Marts, the supermarkets, the McDonalds? Just go to your closest shopping center and check how many locally owned, sole proprietor shops are still operating – ones that were doing business in that location ten years ago.
If we are honest students of human nature and history, we must admit that the buzz words of “democracy” and “capitalism” are shallow, hollow concepts. Both are designed to convince the masses that a small number of powerful, rich, supposedly intelligent and unselfish people should be in charge of running everything.
No enterprise has been well run by a committee, a citizen group, or a board of directors with equal power among the members. These arrangements are cover-ups for the actual administration of power through presidents, CEOs, general managers, mayors, principals, etc., because members of groups always defer the decision making power to one “take charge” personality who cons his or her way to become accepted as numero uno and spokesperson.
Free enterprise is neither free nor fair trading. Capital actually is money put up by banks or wealthy “gamblers” called venture capitalists. Both of these big investors are bettors who gage the risk of getting a decent return on their investment and recovering their principle eventually. Business losses are deductible from other income so that the investor’s income taxes are reduced and other taxpayers are forced to share the losses of these risk-takers.
Loans must be guaranteed by some collateral to protect the banks. Who has collateral? The owners of property or thriving businesses with adequate cash flow, investors who have inherited wealth, and the managers of pension funds who are managing our untouchable savings for retirement. Not the poor, not the renters, and certainly not the young!
Well, all this works in America as long as no one rocks the boat. But how do you get this complicated political/economic machine working in poor countries where the wealth is in very few hands and large chunks of land are owned by a few rich families? All the advice and suggestions of outsiders and foreigners isn’t going to force these wealthy people to develop their assets when they have plenty for themselves. Why invest your precious wealth in some risky venture?
Only a revolutionary force can bring change there. And that is what happened in the United States when the aggressive settlers expropriated land from unorganized Indian nations. “Land grabs” via the use of force are the only way property changes hands when there is no money to buy the land. Then economic development comes though the investment of the owner’s “sweat equity” and the profitable leveraging of borrowed money guaranteed by the value of the property owned. Nothing new here, very simple economics.
So, by promoting democracy and capitalism to other countries, we are actually promulgating revolutionary change in most places in the world like Zimbabwe. Our conspicuous consumption in the U.S. agitates the jealous poor everywhere. When do they get their chance? And how? Like American pioneers did originally, steal it? They can’t borrow the money from local banks because they have no collateral.
They can invite foreign investors to put money into their countries and risk losses due to poorly managed economies and slow expropriation of assets via high taxes and local corruption. Assuming a business is launched overseas; will the local government promote it and protect it from outside competition, or restrict its growth with unfavorable legislation and untimely currency devaluations? Success will be very difficult to achieve, and a challenge to any entrepreneur without sufficient capital or access to credit!
We don’t see things in detail when we suggest that others copy our “successful” system because we don’t have clearly in mind how we got started as a country and how things are run today. As humans we tend to block out the bad times and remember the good ones. Like all conquerors and emperors, our leaders don’t want significant change at home, just abroad. Peaceful times at home soften local citizens and induce the common man and woman to accept the incompetence of the civil bureaucracy for a while.
The horror of conflict is left to the police or the military to handle. When the pendulum starts to swing back as popular leaders show up dissatisfied with their lives, they bring about a shift in momentum. Those with nothing much to lose and a greater hunger for change launch vigorous attacks on the status quo, and we’re off to the wars again.
Civil disobedience is a natural product of individual liberty. Even in a mature democracy like ours, race equality could not have been achieved without it. In India, another country where the citizens honored the form of democracy that the British introduced, progress for equality required major civil disobedience and a separation of warring religious factions.
Why? Because regardless of the form of government adopted, civil disobedience is the only course of action available to resolve the differences between the rulers of a nation and the subjects. An enlightened majority is a myth because of the social gulf between the powerful and the weak, the rich and the poor, and the various polarized political factions that evolve.
Can we trust liberty, democracy, and capitalism to solve the economic and social problems every country faces? Are progress and peace the automatic consequence of the violent change that accompanies turning over the current structure and distribution of wealth to neophytes to administer through representative government? Should we be suggesting to uneducated people who are inexperienced with self government, that immediate improvement in their standard of living is possible when it is highly unlikely? Sooner or later they will reject our advice when things don’t work out as anticipated. Aren’t we exporting revolution without calling it that?
There is insufficient patience for evolution everywhere. Naively, humans ignore the potential violence from the ambitious, active disenchanted and disenfranchised revolutionary elements. It was only a matter of time before our arrogant life style would be attacked by the likes of Osama bin Laden.
What are we doing in places like Israel when we have no solutions and where our advice won’t be followed? Or in Columbia where our demand for illegal drugs has stimulated the building of a parallel economy with the logistics to handle that country’s biggest export commodity tax free?
Or in the Middle East where our leaders are shouting “Axis of Evil” about countries and their regimes who are against our meddling? Wouldn’t it be better that our representatives stayed home and focused their attention on our own domestic problems of drugs, crime in the cities, homelessness, dependency on imported oil, cleaning up our environment, and illegal immigration? (Just to name a few of the unresolved issues that come readily to mind in 2010.)
If we are truly interested in helping others, let’s do that by example, by showing the world we can make a better life for more people here in the U.S. The dilemma then will be trying to stop the immigration of the ambitious poor. Globalization of business will not cure that, it will just create a few wealthier, politically influential people in the developing countries. And free trade is a difficult concept to sell to countries with only a few competitive export industries. Globalization is another complication that hides the fundamental truth that the rich and powerful cannot be controlled by humans who run governments. But that is a subject for another article.
The ugliness of this picture is what we refuse to see by putting on rose colored glasses and preaching liberty, democracy, human rights, capitalism, and globalization. People all over the world need jobs, better integrated systems, modern technology, and a source of capital dedicated to investing in competitive industries and infrastructure where the profits are reinvested and not placed in the hands of a few.
First of all, our leaders must push birth control and education continually and aggressively! Allowing more births of poor children who can’t be adequately fed and educated undermines any possible success for democracy and capitalism. Over-population creates the poverty that spawns potential terrorists and revolutionaries. Democracy and capitalism won’t solve the problem of over-population. That isn’t a surprise to me, but it may be to you.