If you've been following the moldy trail of crumbs being dropped by the writers at the John Locke Foundation, you've noticed a recent upsurge in the rhetoric around free-market fundamentalism. One after another, the Puppets march forth, spewing their simplistic delusions about the nature of our civilization and how the world should work. Their hatred of public service knows no bounds.
Of particular interest to me is their oft-repeated mantra that it's wrong for government to force people do things they don't want to do. And of course, the biggest thing the free-market fundamentalists don't want to do is pay taxes.
This is true not only for taxation, but also for nearly all the methods used by government to get what it deems to be desirable. The Endangered Species Act is enforced by denying land owners the right to cut down trees, build homes, or sometimes even walk on their property, again denying their rights to the “enjoyment of the fruits of their labor” and “the pursuit of happiness.” The minimum wage law denies the right to be employed to people who cannot find someone willing to hire them for at least the mandated minimum wage, denying them the right to gain fruits from their labor. Clearly this list is a long one and gets longer with every legislative session and every meeting of every city council and every government regulatory body.
This drivel come courtesy of a minor-league Puppet named Roy Cordato, who last week served up the same soup that John Hood has been spilling for years. If the mean old people in public service would just get out of the way and let the free markets work their magic, all would be well. Companies would happily spend the billions of dollars required to clean up pollutants they dump into our rivers and streams.
Paint manufacturers would eagerly step up to care for children whose brains have been permanently damaged by the lead in their products. Wonderful private schools would magically materialize so the poorest and most disadvantaged among us would be well educated. And rich old white men would continue to rule the world.
The problem with free-market fantasies, of course, is that they are just that - fantasies. There is scant evidence that the libertarian view of the world has practical value in terms of public policy. And yet the Puppets continue to push their belief system without regard to the reality on the ground around them. They live in a Yo-Yo world - You're On Your Own - and if you happen to be someone not born with a silver spoon, well, tough shit.
The term has a long and rich history, but it is also shorthand for the argument that sustainable prosperity must be built on strong moral foundations. This is something that Adam Smith, one of the patron saints of Market Fundamentalism, understood, but it is a lesson that his contemporary followers have completely forgotten. Smith recognized that the pursuit of self-interest can only serve the common good if individuals are systematically constrained by moral sentiments.
The case for the common good has been framed another way by my friend Larry Wallack of the Longview Institute.
We have a strong obligation to the collective good, to the idea that our success and well-being is linked in a very concrete way to the success and well-being of society. In his second inaugural address, Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the nation in the midst of the Great Depression. He said: "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."
After six years of free-market fundamentalism and profiteering by the criminals leading the Party of Torture and Greed, we the people now have a chance to choose what kind of future we want for this country. That's what this election is about.