Friday, June 26, 2009

The Dream Is Over - Part 1

Historical Underpinnings

[A little preface here: This three part blog has been in the works for a while. This is sort of a 'purge' regarding a lot of things that have been swirling around in my head for the past few months. My last blog purged my frustration with my workplace and this pretty much covers everything else. There will be nothing but sweetness and light from now on... I promise]

One of the primary problems with the world these days is our inability to see a situation or an issue from another person's or cultures point of view. My life is skewed in that sense. I don't work 9 to 5, and commute every day to a home in the 'burbs'. I don' have a tyranical boss, nor to I have the opportunity for advancement or getting salary increaseses for my exceptional work performance. I work for a state government. By all accounts a very poorly run state government. Several of our past Governors have been impeached or arrested and the state has come close to bankruptcy several times in the last decade.

So I have to question whether or not the things that drive me nuts are universal, or are they just manifestation of the world as I see it. After some careful analysis over time, I have come to the conclusion that the problems that infest my world are slowly manifesting themselves in the greater world at large. So in effect, I have been giving a glimpse into the future. Your future, and it isn't pretty.

In every culture, there are the myths that are perpetuated to give us all a sense of place. This mythology has followed every civilization down through the ages. Romulus and Remus suckled by a wolf, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. These are the little antidotes that give us a sense of purpose and form the base of our value set.

Here in America, these myths have been centered on the concepts of virtue, trustworthiness, fair play and capitalism. As we progress farther into the future, the myth and the reality that they were supposed to foster have grown further and further apart.

As we have matured as a culture, our basic human instinct for self preservation and to get ahead to the detriment of everyone else has overshadowed our sense of community. What I am attempting to document here is that breakdown and the reasons for it.

That adage that ‘Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely’ has been around for a long time. Many of us tend to see the concept of power and currency to be interchangeable. You wield power by spending money. My current job has taught be that this isn’t necessarily the case anymore. Money is still there, but instead of the ability to collect it and spend it, real power now lies in the ability to direct it and manipulate it.

Many of the state legislators and directors that I work with make very little money. Their salaries are much less than their skills would demand in the private sector. However, they direct and control vast sums of money and influence that far exceeds their paychecks. There is oversight in this process, but very little. Politicians have learned that wealth can be collected in other ways besides a bank account. Instead of taking bribes across a table, the wink, a nudge and a handshake can buy a vote, with the knowledge that the pay off will come much later in the form or a contribution to a charity in their name, or a library named in their honor, etc.

So when the politician retires, with a very small pension, they also have several buildings and bridges with their names on them not to mention one or two positions on boards of directors for major companies on their resume. I think it is safe to say they are set for life at that point, and no money ever changed hands while they were in office.

This is ‘business as usual’ you say? It has always been done this way? Well, not quite. Not on this scale and not involving this much incompetence.

“Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You! Ask, What Can You Do For Your Country”. Famous words and a famous speech, it set us on the course to the moon and beyond. However, it hardly rings true in these modern times. We have become a nation of entitlements. Once bestowed, they cannot be taken away without a lot of kicking and screaming. The screaming involves what your country entitles you to, not what you can give back to it.

This all started back during the “War for States Rights”….or you may know it better as the “Civil War”. It is called the Civil War because the North States won. Had Robert E. Lee prevailed at Gettysburg it would be a different story. In order for the North to fund the military machine that subdued the South, President Lincoln enacted the first ‘income tax’, which sort of violated that whole ‘taxation without representation’ prohibition in the Constitution. But during times of war, you can get away with a lot of things. It went over so well and the Feds needed so much money for reconstruction after the war was over, they kept it on the books. It has now become and institution known as the IRS.

With the states no longer able to pursue their own self determination and the federal government as the all encompassing motivator and facilitator of all things American the power to govern ourselves in our own best interest as communities shifted toward the best interest of the country as a whole.

This was galvanized during the great depression, when Franklin Roosevelt sought to calm the masses by instituting public works projects and providing the nation with a sense of security… security. The holy grail of entitlements.

When more unrest threatened to sweep the nation in the 1960, Lyndon Johnson put forth the “Great Society” programs and the sense of entitlements spread a flourished throughout the land.

Finally, we came to the end result of the Big Brother concept of government. When the last big economic crisis befell us in the 1970 (the Arab Oil Embargo) our forward thinking President (Jimmy Carter) put forth a plan to make the United States oil independent within 10 years. That would have been the late 1990 by my calculation. Only problem is, it never happened.

As soon as the price of gas stabilized, Detroit went right back to making gas guzzlers and Exxon and Mobile (they were two separate companies back then) started building bigger off shore oil tanker stations and never put the investment into alternate fuels sources like they were supposed to. This is something that would come back to haunt all of us 20 years later. Lucky for them, the American populace has a short attention span. If they didn’t, they might recall that we have already bailed out Chrysler and the Savings and Loan Industry in 1980 and 1990.

The point being, that short term mega-profits for the well-to-do trump the government’s attempts to do what is right for the populace. The government has become the large scale holder and provider of entitlements and turns a blind eye to those that make quick profits at the expense of the population’s future. The government’s power no longer comes from the ability to control the money, but to control how the money is moved around. It is not economic power, it is economic influence. And the ones doing the influencing do not have our best interests at heart.

Many Americans still cling to the concept of manifest destiny and unlimited resources that will pull us out of this mess. There are still lands to conquer, precisous metals to mine and the global view, that the more we can capture and put our flag on, the more bargining power we will have with the foreign speaking folks across the ocean or behind the mountains.

Capitalism is based on a pyramid scheme that all can play but in reality, it does not work. Capitalism by its very nature has to have a poor mass of people and ruling elite. The US was not founded on the concept of freedom from a tyrannical king that taxed us without respresentation. It was about wealthy Caucasian land and slave owners wanting a bigger piece of the pie for themselves. Women, slaves and poor people were deemed to ignorant to be able to understand the complexities of the issues that faced the populace. This was perpetuated up until the Civil War, when the elites that ran the nation feuded and duked it out to see who would
control the biggest piece of the pie. The Federalists won that battle which set us on the road to the all encompassing system of entitlements that is now crumbling around us.

(next chapter: The Land Of Entitlements)