10.11.10 For Want of Wisdom
Last week, fellow local blogger Dan Malouff bemoaned the turning of the United States from a “can-do to can’t” nation. In the piece, he asks, “Are we really so poor that we can’t afford to pass along to our children a working infrastructure?”
The next day, Dinesh D’Souza – president of King’s College in New York City – opined in the Washington Post that President Obama “flays the rich.” D’Souza denounced Obama’s (in my view rather weak) attempts to get the rich to shoulder more of the burdens of society as “anti-colonialism” (as if that were a bad thing).
And the day after that, Ezra Klein – a Post economics columnist – started out writing about Facebook, but ended up painting a compelling picture of how innovation relies much more on societal infrastructure than on individual brilliance. No surpirse to find him dismayed that our country is investing less and less in education and other prerequisites to progress.
Meanwhile, the Tea Party thunders its opposition to government and taxation. Though aspects of the movement (e.g, the sheer idiocy of some of its candidates) are troubling the GOP, it represents in fact the utter embodiment of the GOP’s world view for decades: starve government and transfer wealth to the wealthy. Right here in Maryland, former governor Robert Ehrlich campaigns on tax cuts, without any specific mention of budget cuts or other costs, continuing the long ironic switch from the GOP to the Democrats as the party of fiscal responsibility.
What are the common threads of these columns and campaigns? Selfishness and greed. Deception and gullibility. Theft from the future in thrall to the present, not to mention from the poor and middle class in subservience to the rich.
It seems remarkable how right wingers have successfully spun a populist tale such that seniors scream for the government to keep its hands off their Medicare and working-class families vote for policies that reward almost entirely the smallest sliver of wealthiest Americans. It seems equally remarkable that this tiny sliver is so enamored of today’s tax breaks that it has lost touch with tomorrow’s bridge collapses (due to deferred maintenance) or costs to our collective wealth when inventions get developed in far-away lands.
This is all not really so remarkable, though. After all it’s the ultra-rich who are underwriting the campaigns that result in education cuts. They are the ones controlling almost all of the media that almost all Americans consume – a mainstream media that chooses to put their stories and idologies on the front page, while marginalizing other views. The result is a populace less able to analyze truth and fiction, more susceptible to empty rhetoric, more ready to believe that the entire cake can be eaten and preserved at the same time, without cost to anyone.
As for the the wealthy’s inability to see beyond today, I can only guess that they are so captivated by their own deceptions that they have become true believers. The system they have created (Wall Street!) rewards this quarter’s results and neglects next year’s. The participants get so fabulously, stinking rich that their seventh house and third yacht seem to be free. Damn the torpedoes! Damn tomorrow!
No, Mr. Malouff, this country is not too poor — in cash — to invest in its future. We remain the wealthiest country on the planet by almost any measure. Where we are desperately impoverished is in attention span and social conscience. And we have become that way, because that is the path the utlra wealthy have chosen for us.
When D’Souza and his ilk reinvent “anti-colonialism” as a pejorative, when thousands of teachers lose jobs as Wall Streeters regain their obscene bonuses, when GOP leaders fight to stop a $20-billion jobs program at the same time they toil tirelessly to preserve $700 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 1%, it is no accident. It is all according to plan.
I loathe this selfishness and shortsightedness. If that amounts to anti-colonialism and class warfare, bring me more. Yes, I say, tax the rich: disable the pernicious influence their greed has on society by taking away at least some of their means to purchase that influence. Yes, I say, build more and better schools, enact laws that break up media dynasties, invest in clean energy and rebuild dams, and, yes — use money from the ultra wealthy to bring this about. Do this because progress is not measured or produced by today’s stock market close or the number of houses owned by members of the Senate. Rather, it is measured and produced by wisdom. And that is our greatest lack.
©2010 Keith Berner