By George Gregoriou
The November 7 presidential election is heating up. Now that Hillary is out of the way we can get a clearer picture of what is offered by McCain and Obama. The message for now is “the economy, stupid.” It is not the only one. It would be naïve, even stupid, on the part of anyone to suggest that gender, racism, gay rights, patriotism, religion, and cultural values have no place in the electoral process. They are hot issues, cost no money, and add up more votes. Their manifestation is a matter of degree, with women in Africa and the Islamic world still being mutilated or stoned to death for ʽviolatingʼ the religious and cultural taboos created by men centuries ago. The way these prejudices are packaged to manipulate the voters is another story. Take the “right to life” issue, for example. The right-wing politicians are for life, and for a strong military, small government, low taxes, anti-immigrant (illegal?), and a market economy. To be sure, the issue of abortion cannot be taken lightly. Once a child is born, then what? The conservatives vote against programs benefiting the children, cut the funds for health benefits, welfare, education and want to privatize social security. These ʽright-to-lifersʼ even manufactured lies and send these young men and women to war, without batting an eye, to get killed or maimed for life, and vote against a GI Bill offering these veterans a college education. Does life end when a child is born? That is it? I will be commenting on these issues through this election, and beyond.
My theme here is on the economy, the larger picture, already on the front burner, with specifics to follow. McCain and the Republicans “want” to keep the government out of the economy, though they are not good in keeping their promises. They are against what they perceive to be a big Obama government, big taxers and spenders. To McCain this is socialism, which never worked. The Republican historical reference is Ronald Reagan in the 1980s whose ideas are traced, Barry Goldwater, Milton Friedman, the Chicago and Austrian schools, and to Adam Smith, who wrote the bible of the market economy, The Wealth of Nations, in 1776. Unfortunately, these market fundamentalists (Ronald Reagan included) never read this ʽbibleʼ. If they did, they never got the message, or they got the only message that suited them. Reaganʼs economic policy makers wore ties with Adam Smithʼs picture on them. They went back 200 years!
Adam Smithʼs message was an ethical one. He assumed the market economy would benefit the great masses in Britain, through a competitive market economy, based on mass production (use of technology), which would result in quality goods and cheap prices. A. Smith was reacting to the monopolies created in the previous 200 years, legalized and chartered by the government (such as the “tea” industry (the East India Company) and the olive oil industry (the Spanish or Russian Companies)), for a fee. The government also authorized the seizure of land from the small landowners (the famous land enclosure and removal of small landowners) to benefit of the wool industry. [It should be noted that the Scottish Parliament voted recently (200 years later) to reimburse the descendants of the small plot owners forced out by the big landowners and aristocrats]. This theme was central in the 1640s Civil War in England, with the anti-monopolists stating that “more monopolies were created since the Parliament passed the Anti-Monopoly Act in 1624 than since the times of Egypt.” The message of the rebels was simple: there is nothing we do or use (eat, heat our homes, dinner, work, clothing, shopping, our bed sheets and covers, the homes we live in, and our entertainment), which was not produced by monopolies.
“They bathe us, they clothe us, they are in every vat….” Adam Smith understood this message, and he did allow for an important government role, to promote the public good. He attacked the mechanization of work (humans adapting to the rhythm of the machine, and the alienation. This message is conveyed by A. Smith conveys in The Wealth of Nations.
What one does not get by reading The Wealth of Nations, including those who are critical of the Republican economic policies, is Adam Smithʼs inability to see the larger picture. If a giant like Adam Smith could not see this ʽblack holeʼ in his thinking, why would a Hoover, Reagan or Bush, and all the apologists of market fundamentalism (one can include democrats, especially the Princeton Professor and N. Y. Times columnist tinkering with the status quo, Paul Krugman) see the larger picture? This limitation is reflected in the words of a 19th Century radical thinker, who compared Adam Smith to Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation. Luther and Calvin assaulted the Catholic citadel of power and corruption, and favored the abolition of this hierarchy. Their message: the right of every individual to pursue his or her own religious salvation, through the scriptures and good works. They turned the clock back to the early saints and the scriptures. There would be no central command center, to declare what is right and wrong in religious matters.
This analogy is a good one. All the religious critics wanted to do was to democratize the church hierarchy and keep religion in its pure form. And so, our critics of monopoly capitalism wanted to democratize capitalism, abolish monopolies, and keep capitalists and market fundamentalism in its pure form. Yet, neither the British monopolies nor individual capitalists were putting the wellbeing of the workers and consumers above profits, nor the Catholic hierarchy was putting the salvation of the faithful above the fees they collected, nor above the accumulation of wealth, and the power of the hierarchy. As Antonio Gramsci put it, the Popeʼs heart may be with St. Paul, but he is also the head of an Empire (controlling a lot of real estate, banks, links to the mafia) and a hierarchy of child molesters (costing the church $20 billion for settlements according to the Pope), and a leading reactionary force against womenʼs struggles, and social and cultural policies.
Needless to say, neither the false prophets manipulating our existential lives and mortality nor the corporate/political manipulators of the global and national economies, the mass media, and our work and daily lives are the answer to the political choices we need to make in the November 7, 2008 election. I will focus on the Republican and Democratic economic policies, and what is in them for us, next time.
**** George Gregoriou, Professor Emeritus
Political Science Department, The Wm Paterson University
Wayne, New Jersey 07470