Government and Big Business would like you to believe they are at each other’s throat; the truth is they are in each other’s pocket. Together, they are moving America toward a Plutocracy.
Have you ever played Dungeons and Dragons? You know, the mythical game where each player assumes a specific role and embarks on make-believe exploits and battles within a fantasy world. In the game, players form alliances to interact with and influence the inhabitants of the mythical world, in an effort to solve apparent problems. The game never really ends, because the ultimate objective is not to find solutions for the game’s digital dilemmas, but rather, for the characters involved to become increasingly powerful.
If we didn’t know better, (and we do know better, don’t we?) we could be led to believe that the Republican and Democrat leaders are not really engaged in a great debate to find solutions to the serious problems of the country, but are instead playing a giant game of Dungeons and Dragons; and we are “the inhabitants” they are trying to influence in order to become increasingly more powerful.
The fantasy plot for this game is that the Republicans and Democrats are engaged in a titanic struggle between good and evil — business or government. The Democrats have assumed the role as defenders of government as a vehicle to protect people against the evil actions of greedy, selfish corporations that are focused on doing everything and anything to increase profitability and to avoid “paying their fair share” of taxes. The Republicans have adopted the role of where they see government as an evil, intrusive obstacle standing in the way of corporations and preventing them from doing what they do best, which is to create jobs and drive the economy.
The World of Make-Believe
This is all a fantasy because, while there is both good and evil in business and government, the idea that there is a monumental life or death struggle for supremacy between business and government is a myth. Government and big business have been copulating bedmates since the formation of the Republic. Government and big business not only work together; they need each other to achieve their goals. This seeming rancorous battle between Democrats and Republicans is in reality a well-choreographed charade designed to divert the attention of the individual away from what really is happening. The role of government in this game is to work in concert with big business to facilitate the development of business and to clean up the residue that can result from the exercise of an unfettered market economy. The truth is that the Republican and Democrat leaders are more like pimps than pugilists that bring government and business together for a mutually enjoyable and rewarding relationship.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing inherently immoral with this type of arrangement between government and business; what is wrong is to try to hide the relationship between government and business and make people believe it is adversarial in nature. And there is no sense getting emotional about this game by thinking we are players and not its pawns.
Dawn of Business and Government Partnership
In 1791, just three years after the Constitution was ratified, Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton – eager to encourage industrial development in America – used the nascent power of the federal government to jump-start the development of the American textile industry. Using a combination of government-acquired land and subsidized financing (along with plans for spinning machines stolen from the British) privately owned cotton mills were established at the falls of the Passaic River, near Paterson, N.J.
Another objective of Hamilton was to begin to shift the emphasis of commercial activity in American society from the family and community to individual effort, ownership and reward. It was this philosophy that came to symbolize the nation’s industrial and social development. It meant that from that time forward, the objective of the federal government would be to encourage and facilitate commercial and industrial development in the America; while the actual ownership, operations and profits of the enterprise would be left to the individual.
From the birth of the American textile industry all the way to the current effort to develop alternative energy, every industrial development – canals, railroads, steel, oil, manufacturing (not to mention football stadiums) – was encouraged, supported and subsidized by the government; with ownership and benefits going to individuals and corporations. If that’s not a great partnership, I don’t know what is!
Not only that, but the War of 1812 was the first in a long series of wars and “military actions” undertaken by the United States that had as an underlying objective either protecting or expanding American business and commercial interests. The War of 1812 was triggered because England – the largest producer of textile products – was using its navy to block (among other things) the free trade of American textiles. Essentially every war or military action since then has had a grand patriotic cover – mostly under the cloak of “American Exceptionalism,” which is code for “we can do what we want because we can and God is on our side” – but the reality is that government has taken the country into war after war and hundreds of thousands of people died in order to protect or expand American business interests. Did America go to war against Native Americans because they were a threat to the country or because business interests wanted the lands occupied by the Indians for development and sale to settlers? (Many of the early government leaders and their friends had “purchased” huge tracks of land in Indian Territory.) Did America really go to war in Iraq so the Iraqi people could experience American democracy or to protect our control over and access to oil?
Yes, But What about Those Horrible Regulations Imposed by Government on Business?
Nothing seems to rile the “inhabitants” in this game of government versus big business more than the claim that a plethora of cumbersome government regulations imposed on big business is suffocating economic growth. The truth is these big business interests are acting out a wonderful imitation of Br’er Rabbit when they wail and plead not to be thrown into the regulatory thicket.
Regulations are indeed a problem for the little guy, the innovators and small businesses, but they are a boon for big business. Government is in bed with big business, not small business. The dirty little secret is that for all the complaints big business has about burdensome regulations, its political contributions, lobbying efforts and special interest groups mean that big business is a “hidden hand” writing the very regulations that will regulate their efforts. Regulations codify what it is that big business does; they set the standards for what a company can and cannot do. The problem is that these standards (regulations) are easy for big corporations to comply with, but they are often too expensive and complicated for new or smaller companies to meet. This, in effect, benefits the big companies by raising the barriers of entrance and stifling competition. When the standards for doing business are uniform, big business will always win. Big business may complain about the “police powers” of government, but they know that the real objective of government is and always has been to “protect and serve” big business.
The Real Function of Government
Probably the most important function of government – and one critical to the interests of big business – is to provide for the “welfare” of the individual. People are concerned about their security. But the very nature of capitalism, which over time concentrates wealth, power and property in the hands of fewer and fewer, destroys individual security. The individual becomes servile and dependent on corporations – rather than themselves – for their security. (Some have referred to this as “wage slavery.”) However, big business, with its focus on profits, has no inclination to worry about the security of the individual (it is not profitable), so it looks to government to step in and provide this security for the individual. As Mitt Romney said in an unguarded moment of candor, “I’m not concerned about the poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.”
There are those who rail against the “welfare state,” but don’t count big business in that group. Big business knows that without government’s willingness to step in and provide some modicum of security – rent subsidies, food stamps, unemployment compensation, retirement and health care – for those individuals left behind or discarded by big corporations in the pursuit of profits, then capitalism itself could not survive.
And if anyone wants to complain about the cost and evils of the “welfare state” for individuals, they ignore the size of the “welfare state” the government has provided for big corporations. Consider the hundreds of billions in subsidies, tax loopholes and “bailouts” government provides to big business. You don’t hear the corporations complaining about that type of “welfare,” because they consider it part of their partnership with government.
And the Moral of the Story …
The bottom line in this game of Dungeons and Dragons is that America seems to be inexorably moving away from representative democracy toward becoming a Plutocracy. This happens when the size of government expands in parallel with a shrinking distribution of wealth. In a Plutocracy, wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few and the few use the power of this wealth to manipulate the actions of government for their ultimate benefit. (Note: The recent Supreme Court Citizens United ruling granted wealthy individuals and big corporations the right to contribute unlimited amounts to political campaigns.) A clear sign of an emerging Plutocracy is when opportunities for social mobility are limited and there is a vast disparity between those with money and power and those who lack it.
In America the “middle class” is fast disappearing and along with it the opportunity for upward social mobility. America is rapidly becoming a nation of very few very wealthy individuals and corporations; the rest of society is made up the working (or non-working) poor. The disparity of income and wealth between the top 1 percent of society and the bottom 90 percent is greater today than it has ever been in the history of the country; and the difference is widening.
The first step in an effort to arrest and then reverse this slide toward Plutocracy is for people to recognize that the idea that government and big business are mortal enemies is a myth; and then begin to make such a conflict a reality. Individuals are expected to be accountable for their actions and the same standards should be applied to corporations.
In 1776, Thomas Paine called “not upon a few, but upon all: not on this state or that state, but on every state: up and help us; lay your shoulders to the wheel; better have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake. Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it.”
If America is to once again be the beacon of freedom and opportunity, we must return to the concept that the duty of government is to serve the many, not the few. If that does not happen, we will all be locked in dungeons and ruled by dragons. Forever.