Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Well, Congressman Blumenauer . . .

Congressman Earl Blumenauer sent me a little expensively printed flier under his franking privilege (free postage.)  He claims Washington in broken, Wall Street gets all the breaks and the middle class is broke.  I call B.S.  I have to ask, well, just who should we hold responsible for breaking Washington if not our elected officials, the people who broke the damn thing in the first place?

I agree that our government is broken.  I’m not so sure about the congressman’s other propositions.  If the middle class is broke, well --  how can that be, if at the very same time Wall Street gets all the breaks, as Congressman Blumenauer asserts?  Most of the investment in public corporations, dollar for dollar, comes from the middle class, which is invested in Wall Street, both directly and indirectly through retirement plans which have professional management to invest in stocks and bonds.  And the middle class relies heavily on mutual funds, that is, stock investment managed by expert investment counsel, so it’s not as if the pros have a particularly large advantage over the middle class investor.  The middle class investor buys into retirement plans and mutual funds managed by those self-same pros.

Nah, it’s not Wall Street getting all the breaks.  It’s some of the corporate cronies who heavily support politicians who get the breaks.  It’s not capitalism that’s the problem; it is insider Washington’s crony capitalists who are the problem.

And that leads in to another point Congressman Blumenauer made, that is, that Congress needs to be reformed, to prohibit Congressman from “trading stocks based on information obtained on the job.” 

Let’s call this what it really is.  Congressional investment “information obtained on the job” is of two kinds: either tips about what stock to buy and sell supplied by insiders who expect and get favors from Congress in return, or else the Congressmen know what the market must do in response to the laws that congress passes.  In other words, a trading tip is a just a bribe, and passing legislation affecting the market to the profit of the voting Congressmen is basically market manipulation.  Both of these practices are illegal, and I’m unaware of any principal, legal, ethical, or moral, that would argue that congressmen should be immune to prosecution for such conduct.

And I note that Congressman Blumenauer reports that “after recent news of lawmaker involved in insider trading, I feel passionate about Members of Congress . . . trading stocks based on information obtained on the job.”  Congressman Blumenauer didn’t know about it before the news reports?  If he did, how come he wants to do something about it only now, after news reports?  He could have ratted out the bad guys at any time.  On the other hand, if he didn’t know about it, well, where’s he been all this time?

Congressman Blumenauer also wants to end the “flood of unaccountable corporate campaign spending that threatens the integrity of our political system.”  I agree that this is a problem, where a very few individuals have an outsized impact on the political process;  corporate boards and officers have access to large funds that can be used to influence legislation and governance.

I suspect that this was a circumstance that could not have been anticipated by the writers of the U.S. Constitution, whose view of the world encompassed personal wealth which was largely in land, and therefore illiquid and unavailable to match anything like the impact of enormous cash campaign contributions currently feeding into our mass media information machine.  But it seems to me that if the problem is that a few individuals who control large funds have an outsized political impact as compared to an individual voting citizen, then, we should muzzle all institutional campaign spending.  Muzzle corporations, unions, non-profits, and all institutional campaigning and political activity.   In other words, if “big money” is a problem, get rid of all the “big money,” not just the money from the current target for scapegoating, Wall Street.  If large corporate political influence was not anticipated in the U. S. Constitution, neither was the political influence enjoyed by large employee unions, or large ‘non-profits” such as the A.A.R.P., which flat didn’t exist in 1786.

The constitution can be amended.  How about, instead of “One man, one vote,” we make it “One man, one vote, one campaign contribution?”

When I started voting, over forty years ago, the normal situation was for a family to be supported by the job of one spouse.  Now, couples are frequently hard pressed to maintain a family lifestyle using the earnings of both spouses, and are flat out desperate if one of those spouses becomes unemployed, which is currently frequently the case.  And unemployment insurance is insufficient to make a lasting difference.  The economy is simply no longer such that families can be supported by the earnings of one spouse, alone, without supplementation either by the other spouse or by government hand out.

Yet through these same forty years I’ve been voting, I’ve heard politicians saying that they are going to Washington to protect people like me, to fight for me, to represent me, to support me.  Guess what?  I think one could safely say that the evidence is largely to the contrary – that politicians are selfishly motivated, and nothing else explains the last forty years of politics and the economic mess the country has been caught in.  Things got worse, not better over the last forty years.
And for every single troublesome campaign contribution or stock tip or corporate favor, there was always and unfailingly a smarmy, eager politician’s hand out to grasp it.

What’s necessary?  First, our political masters need to acknowledge, to themselves at very least, that they have screwed up wonderfully in the last forty years, taking the country down a road which led to what we’ve got, now, massive debt and stagnation at best.  Our government has overwhelmed the ability of the private sector to replace the energy and assets that government increasingly has gobbled up in programs owned by politicians who neither know nor want to know about the foreseeable consequences of their decisions.  I wonder how many of ‘em are familiar with or could explain the tragedy of the commons?  Yup.  It was the political leadership.  Nothing else will explain the current mess.  Some of our most respected politicians have screwed up the mightiest, probably out of the best of motives and the emptiest of heads.  Let’s acknowledge it and get on with rebuilding America.

I think that the next politician who can truly be a leader, irrespective of party or creed,  is the politician who will first, trust that the American people can and will lead the way out of the current mess if provided a fair, stable, and predictable body of laws and legal outcomes to work with (and providing our government doesn’t screw it up with an overburden of clumsy management in the hands of civil service oafs, and worse) and second, will see to it that the people get such laws and outcomes.  Such a politician would be able to lead a discussion to define exactly what is the proper role of government, what can and can’t the government do, and what should and shouldn’t a government do.

What’s government for?  I can tell you what government is not for.  Government is not something for politicians to use cynically to do anything they think might buy them a few more votes so that they and their cronies and fellow travelers can continue living large.  If government tries to do things it can’t do, or shouldn’t do, the doing of those things constitutes either a failure of government or a misappropriation of the energies of the electorate, or both, simultaneously.

After all, it was the politicians who declared that certain industries and businesses were “too big to fail,” not the electorate.  And it was government that handed out enormous amounts of cash to ventures that were “too big to fail,” not the people.  But it wasn’t government that generated the cash to bail out those that were “too big to fail.” Government spent money made by the electorate, and worse, spent money that has yet to be made by the electorate.  It wasn’t the voters who put us all in debt to pass out cash to the cronies running the outfits that were “too big to fail.”

Congressman Blumenauer, you say we should “prosecute the crooks who brought the economy down,” right?  You’ll find a whole gaggle of ‘em in the congressional offices all around you.

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