Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Moral Imperatives Should Shape Public Policy by Tina Phillips

After watching the documentary film Inside Job I had a few thoughts about it. Inside Job is a documentary film about the financial collapse around 2007-8 that we experienced in America that greatly contributed to the current recession/depression we are still in. The film explores why it happened, who was responsible, how we could fix things so it does not happen again.

The major thought I had coming out of the film was that the fatal flaw in the behavior of those responsible for the financial collapse of 2008, was that they were acting immorally and unreasonably.

The actors whose decisions lead the the crisis were the bankers, fanciers, Wall street tycoons, and financial institutions of all kinds but also the politicians and government itself who set the policies that created an environment in which the actors could get away with what they did. They worked in tandem to screw many people over. These were policies of deregulation and hyper-capitalism run amok.

These policies and the actors themselves acted in a manner that was devoid of moral and ethical standards. Not only did these policies lack oversight and checks and balances, they encouraged people to make as much money as possible at any cost to others. It was the ultimate act in selfishness. These financial services workers benefited financially from basically betting against people taking home loans, while at the same time giving them the predatory home loans they knew people could not pay back. In other words, they tricked them and cheated them out of their hard earned money and caused them to lose their homes. These are the actions that caused the housing crisis. They also created the financial collapse.

These policies appear to take the "greed is good" approach. However, it has been proven over and over that capitalism does not make "all boats rise." Particularly when capitalism is allowed to exist with no regulation and oversight, we find that people are exploited even more so than on average. It contributes greatly to the wealth and income inequality and disparity in this country. There is an increasing amount of wealth concentrated at the top of our society as the working class is being systematically dismantled. This is not a consequence of a "bad economy" but rather of conscious and deliberate choices made by those in power. It obviously benefits those in power and rich individuals and corporations.

Another aspect to the movie that caught my attention was the idea that many economists have a conflict of interest by way of being in collusion with corporations who they are commonly bankrolled by. A while back a couple of my friends recommended that I take an Economics class in order to see that "capitalism just makes sense." I told them I did not want to be brainwashed by a class I already knew would sell me a bill of goods. Well, if anything proves that I was right about economics classes it was this part of the film. My argument then and my argument now remains that the vast majority of economic theory in America is dominated by a hegemony of pro-capitalist ideas. Economic theory is influenced by capitalism so much it is as if there is no other viable option or alternative even discussed as a possibility. However, there are other viable options. For instance, one I advocate for is democratic socialism.

It seems that one of the major debates of our time that continues to rage is how to solve our economic issues in America. Progressives, for the most part, want to raise taxes on the rich and close tax loopholes and shelters for corporations. Which would raise revenue and increase the amount of social services we are able to provide and invest in the common good. Whereas, conservatives, for the most part, advocate decreasing taxes on the rich and increasing corporate tax breaks. Which, they argue, would help create jobs through "trickle down economics." Then there is the idea of cutting. Progressives often argue we need to cut defense spending and cut subsidies for corporations. While many conservatives want to cut social programs, education, and medicare/medicaid. The two sides have different priorities and different ideas about how economics even work.

One thing they oftentimes agree on is compromise. The Democrats and Republicans use political maneuvering to threaten each other into compromises. These aren't just political compromises, they have real world consequences on our lives. It often means cuts in important programs that we need. It means our college education will cost more. It means the costs of medical care go up. It means the quality of our lives decreases in many ways as it forces us to make harder choices and scrape by with less and less. The Democrats, in particular, need to leverage their power to stop regressive policies and backroom deals that sacrifice the majority of Americans for the benefit of the wealthy. Many Democrats support corporate empowerment against working class interests.

Not that I am a Democrat, but it would be nice to see them stand on principle and vote with their conscience for once. In the long term we need a third party that will represent progressive interests, since the Democrats have long ago sold out to big business. But in the short term its up to us to put pressure on all elected officials to represent the interests of working people. We need to remind them what is logical and what is moral, and call them to account.

I would argue that if one looks at facts and morality one sees clearly where we should go as a nation. Facts tell us that "trickle down economics" does not work. Facts tells us that giving tax breaks to rich people and corporations does not help the working class and does not create jobs. It only serves to make rich people richer.

Furthermore, morality and ethical principles tells us that since all people are mutually dependent on each other, we have to take care of each other. Not only is it the right thing to do, it just makes sense for our survival as a society. The social and common good must be upheld. The idea that a person should exploit another as much as possible in order for their own private economic gain, is morally bankrupt. Not only is it an immoral idea and action, it is not sustainable and not reasonable either.

When we all do better, we all do better. Right now the policies we have are not allowing us to all do better. I would go so far as to say, our entire economic system as a nation, does not allow us as a nation to do better. Changing our economic system is a more long term goal, but we can change the fatally flawed policies that are allowing financial institutions to damage people right now.

The film Inside Job ended by making it known that the government has done nothing to fix any of the structural issues that lead to the economic collapse of 2008. We have got to make sure that gets done, or we are doomed to face more similar economic crises in the near future. We can put back regulations that were once there or make them stronger than ever before. We can break up huge financial conglomerates. We can change the economic policies that are harming the majority of Americans and prevent people from taking advantage of others for their own private gain. The moral and reasonable thing to do is clear. Now we need to work to make it happen.