We are reaping the whirlwind, will we be able to survive the storm?

Lariat Editorial Board

The financial system in this country is teetering on the brink a total crash, with repercussions that may send the entire world community into a depression that has no parallel in history. If we avoid this alternative, then the amount of money we have borrowed to bail out, not fix, the system will mean that every man, woman and child’s portion of the national debt will be a staggering $32,787. Yet even at this supreme moment, politicians, economists, businessmen and common citizens at home still believe that our “greatness” will somehow pull us through.

It is precisely this unrealistic state-of-denial thinking that first got us into this mess; its continuation will certainly insure that we fail to extricate ourselves from it. It never was a question of whose was in or is in the White House, or which political party caused it. Political ideology, fiscal or monetary policy, all the rhetoric; it’s all been nothing but a shell game for years, a gigantic Ponzi scheme that has finally begun to unravel. The financial house of cards that we are seeing crumble before our very eyes is the result of decades of head-in-the-sand hubris, corporate and individual greed, unsustainable borrowing, deficit spending, unsupportable tax breaks for major business and wealthy individuals, political pandering, outsourcing our manufacturing base, refusal to provide a living wage, ill-conceived foreign adventurism and a host of other willfully undertaken irresponsible acts that we in our typically shortsighted fashion never stopped to think where it was all going to inevitably lead.

If you think it’s bad now, you haven’t seen anything yet, and anyone who doesn’t think so doesn’t fully understand what is happening here, or thinks they have enough hard assets and weaponry at home to keep on saying “To hell with you, Jack; I got mine”.

There are those that say our technological superiority will save us. How can it when the majority of our “technological advances” for the last twenty years have either been an uninspired recycling of consumption technology, or advances that are so esoteric as to be beyond the reach of most ordinary people? Are we actually so foolish to think that consumer-oriented technology is going to save us? Particularly since no one is going to be able to afford it or care to buy it? Do you think that the Indians and Chinese are going to give us access to their domestic markets when they can supply the necessary levels of technology to their own people? So many of our resources and intellectual capital have been wasted on building a sleeker iPod, bigger HD TV set or faster laptop that we have forgotten technology was supposed to improve lives in fundamental ways and not the superficial ways that now predominate.

What could have begun saving us (and may still) are the emerging “green” technologies. Unfortunately, efforts to suppress them in the past means there is a serious question as to whether or not we can mount the necessary push to accelerate their full development in a very short period of time. Initiatives that remain critically under-funded because they represented a threat to an entrenched interest, carbon-based energy for instance, remain so until because those interests can’t yet figure out how to make a buck off their development. No matter what outcome, this is the end of the world as we know it. Unless we enact a totally different system of economic priorities, our world will become an economic caste system where you have the ultra-wealthy (perhaps 1% 305 million souls occupying this country), and the vassals who will live off the crumbs.

What is needed is a virtual scrapping of our so called “free-enterprise” system. It’s not free and its enterprising nature was replaced by greed a long time ago. If we are to survive as a free society, we must all work towards an equitable standard of living for all people, starting with our own country. Some of these steps must be:

To undertake a far -reaching and comprehensive restructuring of our tax system. Corporations must no longer be allowed to siphon off taxable income to offshore subsidiaries or use accounting “smoke and mirrors” to avoid paying taxes. Government subsidies and pork barrel projects must be completely eliminated from the budget and the budget not only balanced, but designed to pay off the national debt within two generations. Any tax concessions made to assist business must be repaid; with interest should the business achieve profitability. The tax code for individuals must be rewritten so that no taxes are paid until the living yearly wage income is exceeded, after which everyone pays an equal percentage of their incomes, with no loopholes, no write-offs, accounting tricks to avoid paying taxes;

Place allocation of social services and safety net programs must on a sliding scale. The greater one’s income, the less they should receive in public benefits. Simultaneously, tie all social assistance programs to the recipients active and verifiable participation in the workforce, similar to the CCC and WPA programs of the FDR Administration;

Encourage the concept of “direct tax application” whereby corporations and companies can undertake public works projects in lieu of paying taxes at formulas designed and overseen to insure no unfair parity calculations are brought into question;

Reorient our industrial base and technological capacity from mass consumerism to meeting the long term needs of our planet. Examples, a host of crash programs, proportionately equal in size to several Manhattan Projects and geared to bringing sustainable energy alternatives that have a nominal consumer cost; working with the underdeveloped countries of Africa, Asia and the Latin American states so they can become the breadbaskets of the world and using those revenues to promote internal development of those nations with basic services such as clinics, housing, pathogen free water, disease containment, infrastructure ,etc., instead of consumerism as the primary goals;

Push to begin a worldwide ban on the unrestrained sales of weaponry. Reduce our incredibly bloated military spending, first by not getting involved in unilateral foreign interventions, but also reducing budgets to realistic levels and undertaking massive reforms to the entire procurement process. Work towards the reduction of military forces around the world and the universal isolation of states that foster aggression. Our continuing belief that we can influence events by the projection and application of military force has been disproved in Vietnam, the Balkans, the Middle East, Somalia; Iraq and Afghanistan still hang in the balance. A fictional character created by Isaac Asimov said, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” The character remains fictional, but the prescience of the statement is real.

The bottom line is that we must retrench until we get our own house in order. We are standing at the edge of the abyss. Either we plunge into the darkness of a recession which may well confirm that capitalism will, as Karl Marx predicted, collapse as a result of its own internal contradictions, or we will make the invisible hand of Adam Smith’s moral economics guide us to a future of equality.

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