2008-03-07 / Columnists

The Progressive

Political Liberty
Commentary By John Paul Culotta

Often it appears we all believe in theories that are not based on facts, but on our own prejudices and tradition. Conservatives in debate equate capitalism or the free market system with a guarantee of political liberty. This appears on the face of it, to be erroneous. The societies of Hitler and Mussolini may have had some socialist practices, but on the whole their fascist system allowed private wealth to flourish. Mainland China also allows a free market system to exist without political liberty. Our economic system may be the best system to generate wealth and growth, but there are often defects that need attention.

Politicians often state that government should be run as an efficient business or corporation. Modern corporations and their bureaucracies do not guarantee efficiency or democratic processes, and are not interested in the common good. Corporations and businesses are run in the most despotic manner imaginable. There is no room for discussion or debate when the management makes its decisions. Corporations generate childlike behavior by employees, distrust, fear, envy, grade or class stratification, passive aggressive behavior, inequitable compensation and, sometimes, sabotage. Most of us do not feel democratic practices can flourish when the many live in fear, poverty, and an increasingly unfair disparity in wealth. When we work for a corporation, we often begin to feel we have no impact on our future. As a result, many of us do not participate in the democratic processes. At election time the number of people who go to vote diminishes. Unionization of workplaces sometimes gives employees a feeling of worth.

Does the free market benefit society? My answer is, without a doubt, yes. Our economic expansion and growth is a result of corporate policy. At the same, time there needs to be a recognition that unless all members of society benefit, the unlimited corporate political power can also negate any political liberties, especially if growth and wealth generate elitism and political corruption.

Unfortunately, this appears to be the trend this nation has accepted for the last thirty years.

Another belief many of us have is that the one fee payer medical system that Canada established years ago will lead to rationing of medical services. All methods of payment for any services have a rationing capacity that is generated by the nature of any economic system. Hospitals, insurance carriers and government tell many people in our free market system that their desire for medical service is denied. Too often the most vulnerable are denied. Recently, the New York Times had an article regarding the lack of dental care many Americans suffer because of poverty. Some die, because the lack of dental care can lead to deadly infections. One person described her difficulty finding menial work because of her lack of front teeth at the age of thirty. We have rationing of medical services now!

One theory is that government intervention and regulation only exacerbate problems and do not solve them. Members of Congress and their families have universal free medical care. We are willing to insure medical care for our military and their families. We have Medicare for our aged and Medicaid for our poor. It appears that only the working people of this country who cannot secure employment that guarantees affordable coverage are not given adequate medical care. Unfortunately, many who are eligible for Medicaid are not aware of their eligibility. Often doctors refuse to serve Medicaid and Medicare recipients and people who are insured with companies with which it is difficult to deal. "Sicko," the motion picture, explains the insane method the greatest and richest nation that ever existed has developed for a health care delivery system. Our system is based on greed and inefficiency, and cries out for government intervention. Many nations allow government participation, and the people are happy with the results.

Most of us understand human nature needs the balancing intervention of government to ensure safe drinking water, wholesome food, police protection, fire protection, schools for all, and protection of money deposited in our banks. If we understand government to be necessary for these purposes, there should not be the angst when government intervention is proposed for medical care.

It may be time also to recognize that university education should be free for all capable of higher learning. This city once had a marvelous free higher education system. Maybe it is time for our nation, states and cities to take the lead in furnishing free higher education. Young men and women saddled with debt cannot afford to become employees that can behave as social equals to employers. This debt slavery ensures compliant workers who are difficult to organize. Democracy cannot only be when we go to the polls. We need to be allowed to express our needs also in the workplace.

Conservatives will say that if we institute free one payer medical care, and free higher education, taxation will increase. We can pay for these social necessities by taxing all income for social security and ending the income limit; having a casino admission tax of $1-5; increasing taxes on tobacco and liquor; establishing a only government affordable health insurance policy in which all employers must pay or individuals can purchase; establishing a national lottery; increasing taxes on the purchase of firearms; and ending the futile war on drugs, allowing addicts the opportunity for medical care, and taxing soft drugs addicts may use, of course, under supervision. If addicts can obtain their fixes legally, they may not resort to other criminal activity. Taxes on capital gains could be increased or placed at the same rate as income. Corporations could be limited as to the government subsidies that these large players receive, which actually is a travesty of the free market system. We should also limit our expenditures to legitimate defense activity and stop invading countries that do not present a threat. This nation now spends $15 billion dollars each month on the war on terror and many of us do not feel any more secure. All of these suggestions are controversial but should be debated.

Our belief system must be based on fact. Those who understand history know government intervention has helped our free market system and corporations to flourish. Progressives believe there is a role for the economic invisible hand. We also know that the hand sometimes needs another hand for assistance and direction. Our nation has been blessed with political liberty and economic prosperity. We must understand these blessings cannot be guaranteed without daily participation and commitment to the common good. Government can be a tool to achieve our goals. Unions can also be a tool. Religious, nonprofit, ethnic and cultural groups can play a role. Business and corporations can play their role but must not be the only active participants. We need to conquer greed and waste.

I applaud deli owners that use cats to prevent rodent infestation. Our city government fines deli owners if a cat is found on their premises. This is government intervention we do not need. Let cats do their Job! My wife told me I need to recognize society's need to relate in a positive way with all of G-d's creatures; maybe future columns will be on that topic. Remember, she is she who must be obeyed!

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