As we get deeper into this 2016 national election, at some point we will be faced with debate about our slowly rebounding economy. The airwaves will be filled with chatter about what to do about those who have a lot of money and those who do not.
It is clear that our Founding Fathers feared that both tyranny and income inequality would be the stake in the heart of our republic’s great experiment with democratic ideals. It is also clear that we have economic inequality equal to the 1920’s, just prior to the Great Depression. Today, the top 20% own 84% of America’s wealth. The bottom 40% own .3%. Out of every 100 people and every $100, 20 people have 84 of those dollars. The next 40 people have $15.70, and the last 40 have 30¢–not each, 30¢ to share.
This scenario is a Founding Father’s worst nightmare.
How can we fix it?
One remedy is to eliminate profit from the most critical services offered to the American public.
We are already a hybrid society, mixing capitalistic and socialistic strategies to deliver services. There’s no mass movement to eliminate the armed forces and replace them with Hessians. I’m not hearing any loud calls for melting down the federal mints and ceding states the responsibility to coin money. Over 70% of the population is in favor of Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid/Tricare. The favorable numbers for these programs go sky high when polling those actually receiving the benefits.
So, the answer to how much government is enough lies somewhere in the philosophical middle ground between pure laissez-faire capitalism and socialism.
Congress’ job should not be to continually expound dogma about their political theories, their job should be to govern and decide which combination of capitalistic and socialistic strategies will best serve Americans.
Simplistically, the balance is this: The feds should run any program that is either too big or too complicated to be efficiently run by private enterprise. When the delivery of goods or services (mainly services) gets too complicated, costs go way up and the profit margin required by private corporations due to the complexity of the task makes the cost to the consumer beyond what is reasonable to pay. Our current economic problems stem from just such examples of excesses in money marketing, insurance provision (especially healthcare), and energy development.
If an industry were run for its basic cost and not be concerned with making a profit for its corporate leaders and investors, the shelf price to consumers would be much less. The universal need for the critical services in question would still create demand; therefore, workers wouldn’t lose jobs–production and delivery would still be necessary. People would be employed and paying less for critical items. The loss of profit for the top 20% paired with savings for the bottom 80% would help lessen the income inequality gap, allowing our Founding Fathers to stop turning over in their graves.
Socialists take the extreme view that all industry fits into the above logic. Making cars and watches and frozen desserts all could be done more cheaply if there were no need for profit. But, we’ve proven for over 230 years that capitalism works extremely well in most endeavors. We get new and innovative products while people work and earn wealth and respect for what they do.
So, America produces Ford convertibles, cool Bulova watches that double as pedometers, and Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream in the private, for profit world of capitalism that encourages the population to seek, and many to realize, their own version of the American Dream. But, we must get away from the idea that pure capitalism with its never regulated, big business is sacred, only the fabulously wealthy can create jobs ideology is the only path to stability and American prosperity.
In a country of some 320 million citizens we need to band together with a united front and use our strength in numbers to negotiate a better deal when private industry is doing us no favors. We need only recall the recent examples that include oil companies and money marketers who have proven unworthy of our trust.
Just because we have Social Security, Medicare, and some government regulations we are not a socialist country. Likewise, because most businesses are not government regulated and Americans produce and sell in a mostly free market, we’re not pure capitalists either. Our country was developed as a melting pot of people and our economic system needs to be a melting pot of good ideas that work for our large, diverse citizenry.