Size Matters; The Objectification of Economics


Yeah, size matters.

Anyone who says otherwise has a Napoleon complex.

Size matters.

A lot.

But while it matters, it’s how you use it that matters most.

Can I get an Amen?


With the so-called Tea Party Movement still a hot topic, I find myself repeating William Blum more and more these days: "Activists have to remind the American people of what they’ve already learned but seem to have forgotten: that they don’t want more government, or less government; they don’t want big government, or small government; they want government on their side."

Tim Wise recently made a great point about race in regards to the teabaggers (What if the Tea Party were black), but I was disappointed that no one responded to the co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, Jenny Beth Martin’s comment:

We’re ordinary citizens and we’re standing up for three things: fiscal responsibility; constitutionally limited government; and free markets. And these three principles – they transcend race and they apply to everyone. The out of control spending the government is doing right now is going to affect our children and our grandchildren regardless of race. It’s going to affect all of them and that’s what we’re concerned about.

Excuse me if I don’t believe for one second that Ms. Martin and her fellow "patriots" are "concerned" for "all of them." While I admit I don’t attend Tea Party rallies I seriously doubt that, for example, they mention how non-whites are more adversely affected by the recession. I also seriously doubt they understand why that is.

I am for fiscal responsibility but I guess “responsibility” is in the eye of the beholder and based on their values. And since two values that immediately come to mind are solidarity and equity

  • I find the growing income gap to not be fiscally responsible.
  • I find that 53% of our taxes going to finance wars of aggression to not be fiscally responsible.
  • I find spending more than twice as much on private healthcare that leaves millions in bankruptcy, uninsured and underinsured to not be fiscally responsible.
  • I find the tax cuts from the previous Bush (and Reagan) administration that favored the rich to not be fiscally responsible (the tax rate for the top income bracket is 35% – I would personally like to see it raised back to 91% like it was during the so-called “Golden Age of Capitalism”).
  • I find that investment income is not taxed as earned income is not fiscally responsible.
  • I find that Bill Gates seeing less than half of one percent of his annual income being taxed for Social Security while a single-mom working double-shifts at IHOP sees 100% of her income taxed for the same program is not fiscally responsible.
  • I find our over-consumption (we are 5% of the world but do 25% of the world’s consumption) to not be fiscally responsible.
  • And while we makeup 5% of the world we spend 50% of the world’s military budget – this is not fiscally responsible.

I agree that “out of control spending” is a problem, especially in terms of our wars of aggression, foreign military bases and corporate welfare (i.e. weapons companies, banks, etc). And since the CIA budget is “classified” I can only assume it’s "out of control" as well (some claim it is around $1 trillion annually)!

What are also problematic are our corn subsidies. We spend about $5 billion a year, on average, to produce more corn than we need. We have ruined Mexico’s corn farmers by dumping the corn into their market for prices cheaper than it costs them to grow it, and then we used NAFTA to keep them from placing tariffs on our product (and when we started allocating corn to biofuel we drove up the price, which caused a food crisis in the country). Worse, the number of labor intensive jobs that came from the NAFTA deal is less than the number of peasant farmers displaced. The result: real wages have declined. This economic injustice plays a big part in why many Mexicans risk coming here “illegally.” They’re refugees. Victims of our political and economic crimes, and we treat them like the criminal.

It’s fair to ask why these “patriots” don’t find the above to be problematic enough to speak out on.

Bailing out the banks that caused the economic crisis was wrong. They took the risks and we paid the costs. But isn’t that how it has always been? Privatize the gains but socialize the costs…

The stimulus bill was not wrong, though it was flawed. Every serious economist knows that increased government spending can be done to create jobs which will then act like a defibrillator. In his article on the bill, the economist Dean Baker said, “For US senators, decreasing the size of the stimulus package may be clever politics. But it’s not smart economics.”

In Erik Reinert’s book How Rich Countries Got Rich… And Why Poor Countries Stay Poor, the author advises developing countries to, “Do not do as the Americans tell you to do, do as the Americans did.” What he is getting at is that the US, like all other developed countries, developed by means of a planned economy. From the early days of slavery and tariffs to The Pentagon System, the US owes its advanced economy not to practicing what it preaches (i.e. free market enterprise) but to violating it. Reinert also references the split between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and how in rhetoric we are Jeffersonian but in practice we are Hamiltonian.

That there is no such thing as a developed less government economy should be something for the libertarian-right teabaggers to consider.

The Tea Party Patriots principles, which are pretty much interchangeable with the libertarian-right, rest on two massive hypocrisies and one giant myth.

It’s no wonder that folks like Glen Ford feel, “They oppose the government providing assistance – economic, legal, educational, real or imagined – to those that are ‘undeserving,’ which in their world consists mostly of folks that can be defined by race, language or religion (using code words, when required by polite society).” Paul Street and Anthony DiMaggio also have a pretty good (two-part series) critique on the Tea Party from the left.

That we need a big planned economy really isn’t up for debate except as a smokescreen to shield the private tyrannies from scrutiny. The issue is as Blum acknowledges: whether government is on our side or not. If we "ordinary citizens" are going to build a movement to challenge government responsibility, spending and how goods and services are allocated (and believe me when I say I am already on board this train) then we must focus on making government accountable to the needs of the working class, not the business community. To do this we can’t let rhetoric about fiscal responsibility and government spending ignore the militarism, cronyism and corporate welfare. And we need to mature beyond mythological nonsense about “free markets.” We need fair and democratic planning and when the libertarian-right and their Tea Party brethren are ready to have that conversation I will be glad to begin discussing Participatory Economics.

Leave a comment