Introduction to Sagebrush38’s Weblog

First, let me extend a welcome to any reader who is interested in serious (but, hopefully, at times, humorous) discussion of issues in philosophy, religion, or politics.  Philosophy is the discipline through which I prepared for my career.  I have strong avocational interest in religion.  And I have spent the last four years completing an unpublished book on American politics entitled “Beyond Polarization.” 

As a senior citizen I can not recall a time when my concern for the future of the country has been greater.  We face serious economic problems stemming from an unbridled capitalism which results from the thought that the market should function with complete total freedom.  It is no accident that the person under whose guidance our economy has sunk into difficult circumstances, Alan Greenspan, does not even characterize himself as a Republican.  He is a self-identified Libertarian.  Today, I was thnking about Adam Smith who was one of the first to recognize the importance of the market in the development of the economy.  Smith was to the best of my knowledge strongly influenced by Scottish Calvinism.  The importance of this is that he would have seen his views of the economy and the market in a larger context shaped by religious convictions.  Two convictions stand out: the sovereignty of God who through his providence would be looked to to make all things work out well to those who served God through good hard work; and a belief in original sin and the consequent total depravity of every last man, woman, and child on the face of the earth.  What has this to do with economics?  I believe that Smith thought that the economy operated under two major influences: divine providence and human weakness.  A free market was the only mechanism through which humans inclined toward greed could work synergistically with divine providence.  A less lofty way of making the same point is to say that the free market evolved as a necessary evil.  Any human attempt to regulate the economy would fail due to the basic sinfulness of those attempting to regulate it.  The best that could be accomplished in a sinful world in the economic sphere would be to let humans compete with one another with as great a measure of freedom as possible in the hope that through that competition rooted in self-interest some check on greed or excess would persist that would lead to results less negative for all involved.  The fact that this human struggle occurred in the context of a benevolent providence would further assure that the results would be less negative than might be suggested by the sinfulness of human nature.

All of this reflection on Adam Smith may seem irrelevant to today’s economic problems but it is not.  Economics, along with other academic disciplines, has evolved in a purely secular context.  Any theological assumptions about God or humans have played little or no role in the subsequent development of economics.  The result of this is that the greed of humans has operated in the free market context that politicians have worked for since Ronald Regan without any checks and balances.  Regan made an important point about the need to maintain the safety net.  That was a recognition of the imperfection of a purely free market system.  But under his administration the process of removing regulations that had been put in place to check greed already began.  It has continued for the last 28 years which have included eight years of the administration of a Democrat, Bill Clinton. 

What has free market dogmatism without checks and balances led to:

  • It has resulted in taxes coming to be seen negatively as depriving investors of resources
  • The reduction in taxes or failure to assess taxes to pay for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has led to a bloating federal deficit much of which has been bought up by foreign interests which may at some point decide that it is better to hold Euros of yen instead of dollars.
  • It has led to a growing gap between investors and workers in the United States as capital has sought out cheap labor in various corners of the globe. 
  • Trade agreements have been indifferent to equity in compensation appropriate to the hours and conditions of labor, and with indifference to the total benefits provided to those who labor.
  • The safety net spoken of by Reagan was replaced with references to the need for compassionate conservatism which in turn has become nothing more than hollow rhetoric.  More recently, an aspirant to the presidency has described social security as a disgrace.  On the abstract premise that the market provides every participant with equal opportunity the view seems to be that if any one is suffering economically it is due to their own failure, and, therefore, there is justice in their suffering, so that those of us who are prospering need not feel any obligation to help them beyond whatever pity we may stir up within ourselves for them. 
  • It has led to a return to inflation as consumption of energy has been a higher priority within the United States economy than conservation or developing alternative sources of energy.  This has translated into unreasonable jumps in oil prices as greed has triumphed over regulation in the sale and purchase of oil futures.
  • It has led to outlandish costs in the field of health care as employers have bailed out of any obligation to provide this benefit, and individuals have been unable within their wages to find sufficient funds to pay the high insurance premiums required to assure access to health care.
  • It has led to a credit or mortgage crisis which is resulting in more and more people having to give up their homes.

There is, of course, more that could be said about economics and the policies advocated by politicians.  I will conclude this discussion with just one reminder.  If you have not read it lately, look at the preamble to the United States Constitution:

“We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

In this preamble specific goals that extend to all the citizens of the United States are adopted as defining the role of government.  Note the presence of the need to “establish justice, to promote the general Welfare” and “Secure the Blessings of Liberty.”  These goals are often forgotten as politicians focus excessively on providingfor the common defence (translate: big military spending budgets) and insuring domestic tranquility (translate: allow people to own guns to defend themselves, their homes, and their families, get more policeman into the streets, put more and more citizens in prison.)

We are at a cross roads in the history of our nation.  We need to choose what the highest priority of our political process will be:  Will it be to promote democracy for all of our citizens and to model what is possible through democracy for the rest of the world?  Or will it be to promote a global free market that is less and less influenced by the interests of the people, whether the people of the United States, or people around the globe?  The domination of politics by economic issues instead of serving the country, has now become a threat.

I have other concerns about the future of our country, but will address these in later blogs.

Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you.

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