Friday, July 4, 2008

America's holiday

Today is Independence Day, a day that celebrates our declaration of freedom from the King of Great Britain's authority.

In 1776, the United States began to take the first steps towards liberal democracy, a political system in which (it is claimed) decisions that affect the citizens are made by representatives held accountable to the citizens themselves. The experiment was never intended to actually give power to the people, of course. Most of the framers of the Constitution had such great contempt for the decision-making competency of the common man that they did everything they could to concentrate power in the hands of the wealthy landowners without just coming out and saying so. This isn't even mentioning the issue of slavery, both the chattel slavery of black men and women and the social slavery of white women.

Even with these significant caveats, the liberal democracy established by the revolutionaries of that time has grown and matured. It is far from perfect. The process of electing our leaders has evolved into an independent being, dependent far more on corporate money than on the consent of the governed. Our business-minded masters are free to do as they please for as many years as they can get away with it, before they must spend some months pandering to the people that might reelect them. But the idea of our democracy is still a good one, one worth strengthening and defending in ways well beyond the narrow focus of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.

The first tentative step in expanding the scope of the democratic experiment was taken through the New Deal, which essentially established for the first time in the United States a system of social democracy. To the Declaration's liberty the New Deal added some measure of solidarity. We began to recognize that it is not enough to be free from arbitrary rule, that if we are a society bound together by geography and history, each of us owes our lives and well being to the actions of every other. We owe it to them, and they to us, the opportunity to make it through hard times that none should have to endure alone.

As with the political freedom of the liberal democracy, the social democratic experiment has both grown and eroded since it was established. The basic provisions of universal education, health care, and pensions are in the modern United States a farce, beholden as our elections are to the interests of businesses in lowering costs and raising prices. And as with the liberal democracy, the social democracy must be strengthened to live up to the idea behind it, rather than to the practice it has become.

The only way to build upon our liberal and social democracies is to add equality to the values of liberty and solidarity we stand for. We must have economic democracy as well. Most everyone believes that we are competent to elect our political leaders... but we demure away from the idea that we ought to elect our bosses. We think that decisions that affect a town, or a state, or the nation as a whole should be made by that town, that state, or the nation as a whole... except when those decisions involve our economy. We believe that all people should be equal in the eyes of the law, but we allow a fraction of the population to claim the bulk of our resources, and have far greater access to the pursuit of happiness our Declaration of Independene proclaimed. Their claim is justified not by their having done more to earn their share, but because they had access to the means of producing that great wealth, and were able to buy the effort of others to make it. Rather than owning the product of their labor, these others have to turn it over to their economic betters to dole out as they see fit: which is always as little as possible.

It should come as no surprise that this class of parasites and their great ideology of capitalism, this class who claim great wealth and prosperity by taking from the effort of others, is precisely the same group that prohibits our liberal and social democracies from meeting their promise. Private ownership of capital insures that profits make the rich far richer while making the poor only slightly less poor, if at all. A labor market that relies on the threat of unemployment as a stick to keep the exploited from simply leaving to find better opportunities ensures that the cycle continues. These same forces are also behind the need to continuously expand our markets, which requires global presence, interference, and often warfare to "spread democracy," which merely means "areas we can do business in."

Capitalism must end for true democracy—liberal, social, and economic—to have any hope of being more than a footnote in the histories of our future. The United States, and indeed the world, deserves better than this.

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