Thursday, January 21, 2010

An open letter to Justin

One day (in the future) you come home from work to find your house burned to the ground by an arsonist; everyone is safe, but pretty much only the foundation of the house remains. What does remain is soaked in water, and your most important personal possessions that might have survived (keyboard, photo album, etc.,) are soaked from the water used by firefighters.

You decide to sue the firec hief because he "ruined" your prized possessions.

Make sense?

Well, this is essentially the situation we have today. The current financial situation is a result of the Chicago school of economics (Milton Friedman, chief guru), which was promoted by successive administrations: Reagan, Bush I, (Clinton to some extent -- I'd have to do some more reading) and Bush II. Essentially it is the Libertarianism of economics, i.e. minimal, if any regulation, put "faith" in the "rational self interest" of the market, etc., etc.

Yet it is flawed, and we saw the results in 2007-2008. The recovery funds for the financial sector was put in motion by Bush. Essentially, he had to do it because the collapse was under his watch, the result of ideology that he espoused and supported. Without doing something, the banking system would have come to a complete collapse and a depression would have ensued. So that was in place before Obama took office, but regardless, Obama was faced with the same necessity.

Then the domestic auto industry came to the brink. GM and Chrysler went into bankruptcy. The federal governments of the US and Canada became creditors to enable the companies to survive in some form. This is standard business practice, with certain conditions that protect jobs in both countries. (Bankruptcy (although under different rules) is also available to individuals who experience financial disaster.) Assuming GM and Chrysler survive and return to health, the governments who have invested will be able to sell their shares and recover the investment, and perhaps even healthy profit.

This is not socialism, as the yelping running dogs of the far right scream. (Note: That's SARCASM, a reference to Communist propaganda-speak from before you were born.) Socialism refers to when entire industrial and business sectors are under permanent ownership of the state. No matter what, the US and Canadian governments will not end up owning the auto sector.

I am amused when I hear people address the health care reform debate as "socialized medicine"; nothing could be further from the truth! Private enterprise will still own the hospitals, clinics, insurance companies, etc. All that will change are rules and regulations that broaden coverage. I have my doubts as to how effective this will be, but I think it might be a step forwrd, so am prepared to wait and see how things unfold. (My main concerns are that it is NOT universal and that it still involves too many payers and players, resulting in gross inefficiency and opportunity for discriminatory care. The underlying principle that I hold is that health care is a basic human right, not a privilege or semi-guarantee. This, of course, is a distinctly different discussion, but is one which I think would be valuable for the American public.)

Emotion -- anger and fear -- are valid. But when they become the ground upon which people make decisions, facts go out the window. The US entered and escalated the war in Viet Nam based not so much on reason but on ideological attachment -- the "domino theory", which is fear translated into foreign policy. The 2003 attack on Iraq was the same -- using public fear to justify an unjustifiable action. How many people needlessly died in both of those conflicts?

The same process is occurring now, though the circumstances are different. People are in the dark and afraid. When that occurs, people get angry and act on that anger. The essential question is NOT public policy, e.g., should we reform health care or not, should we help struggling companies, etc. The essential question is "How do we approach social policy in a manner that allows for reasoned (though not dispassionate) discourse, that respects the opinions of all and respects the proper place of not only the majority but everyone?"

I realize that Facebook is a social networking site, and normally serves for one-off comments that range from funny to flippant, sarcastic to serious, birth to death, etc. So rather than fill up space with a status response, I post this here, on my own blog.

To me, the basics are this: understanding the true nature of self (self/not self) and compassion. As I reflect on my own speech and actions, I am increasingly brought back to those compass points. When I look at North American society, I see this as the most pressing need.

I recommend you take a longer view. Your grandparents endured a prolonged depression. While there was debate, both ideological and practical, over policies, the predominant impression I have of that period is that people simply worked together. The impatience of youth is valuable because it adds energy to situations. It can motivate people to take action, it can energize. But precipitate action can also derail thoughtful consideration and careful action. An angry populace is not necessarily a train on the right track.


pope said...

Spot on, friend.

Reasonable minds with thought out viewpoints seem to be in short supply, and reading your blog (I linked here from TOP) was both surprising and refreshing.

Alison said...

I second that. While we are angry rash decisions to justify our anger will do nothing to help us into the future. Very well written piece that should be read by all in this country.