This post is not a partisan polemic intended to attack those who hold different views than those which I maintain. Rather, it is an honest attempt to understand the reasoning behind those who have divergent beliefs about the anti-corporate and anti-government anger that is currently being expressed so viscerally by so many people in America. I hope that this post can act as a springboard for a substantial (and respectful) conversation about these forces that are growing in our society.
It's easy to understand the anti-corporate anger felt by so many Americans these days. Big Business reaps massive profits through often-times reckless dealings and cost cutting. Plus, after causing the Great Recession, it gets a bailout because it is "too big to fail." Then, it goes back to its unconscionable bonuses which, by the way, wouldn't have been possible without our generous bailouts.
It's also easy to understand the recent wave of anti-government anger following the bailouts of the banking, mortgage, and auto industries while assistance to ordinary citizens for home mortgages, jobs, and health insurance has been almost nonexistent. Add in the revolving-door access of lobbyists to Congress and the backroom dealings with Big Business during the health-care reform legislation and there's plenty of reason to question which constituency our government is serving.
But the truly rabid resistance to government seems oddly misplaced. The anti-government anger doesn't make sense to me because it makes what I consider to be some inaccurate assumptions. For example, we hear how our government is shifting over to socialism. I think those who make that claim have no idea what real socialism is. They also don't realize that the U.S. already has many "socialistic" programs that I'm pretty sure the anti-government populists wouldn't want to give up, including the military, Medicare, the VA, education, city and county law enforcement and fire departments, utilities, Social Security, and even welfare. They want government out of their lives except, of course, when they want it in their lives.
The anti-government populism is also anti-tax, yet supplying those aforementioned services cost money. Sure, we could cut spending, but when it comes down to deciding what to carve out of the budget, it's an "anything that doesn't affect my life" mentality.
We could also increase taxes, but that is anathema to those who on the right. And it is politically radioactive for those on the left. And, let's be realistic, no one wants to take money away from the people who need it most during these tough economic times. What I find so odd is that the anti-government populists don't even want the wealthy to be taxed. You'd think that they would at least want the rich, who got massive tax cuts under the Bush administration and who have been the cause of so many recent problems, to suffer for their sins.
The anti-government populists seem to be tilting at the wrong windmills. For example, they want government out of health care because, as the cliché goes, they don't want a bureaucrat standing between them and their doctors. But here's some news: there already is a bureaucrat standing there; he is called a health-insurance representative. Who would you rather have deciding your treatment if you are sick? A government official whose priority is your health and your getting the best possible treatment (in the most cost-efficient way) or an insurance-company bureaucrat whose primary concern is minimizing costs while maximizing company profits? Of course, if you don't want any interference from any bureaucrats, you are free to pay out of pocket, but how many of us can afford to do that? Seems like a no-brainer to me.
Anti-government populists want our government out of the marketplace, so it can regulate itself. Yet, that is what got us into this financial mess in the first place. The reality is that Big Business can't be trusted to act in our best interests because its reason for being is its own best interests, namely, to make more money in any way it can. If Big Business could be trusted with our welfare, we wouldn't have the housing crisis, the banking crisis, the health-care crisis, the list goes on ad infinitum.
People have also demonstrated that they are often incapable of acting in their own best interests, for example, smoking cigarettes, eating junk food, or managing their finances. Those on the right would argue that if people want to kill themselves slowly or go into bankruptcy, they should be free to do so. And I would agree wholeheartedly if their behavior occurred in a vacuum impacting no one else. But when people's individual behavior has a significant societal cost, then government has a responsibility to act in the best interests of our society by mandating reasonable laws, rules, and regulations (I appreciate that "reasonable" can be a source of considerable conflict) that, as sad and unfortunate as it may be, protect people from themselves. Plus, as we have learned with the recent housing and credit meltdowns, people also need to be protected from the dishonest practices of Big Business who, we have found, will do most anything to make a buck.
It boils down to who are you going to trust (and you do have to trust someone). There are really only two choices these days and you have to pick one. Do we trust government or Big Business? Do you really want to place your trust and welfare in the hands of those who don't care about people; it's only interest is in increasing profits for itself? It is that unregulated system that has left so many Americans without jobs, health insurance, retirement plans, or hope. And, importantly, we the people never have and never will have the ability to directly influence Big Business for our own best interests.
That leaves government. Sure, government has serious problems. Yes, it is often inefficient, ineffective, and wasteful. But let's see how the world's best CEO does trying to run a "company" with two million employees and a budget of more than three trillion dollars, At the most basic level, the reason why we should trust government over Big Business is that, warts and all, its reason for being is to serve its citizens (however off the tracks that mission has gotten). And, very importantly, at the end of the day, we have the power to influence our government through our votes.