Solutions to the nation’s Greed Crisis

By Ron Forthofer, as published in the Longmont Ledger, December 12, 2010

Image courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation

During the recent financial crisis, the primarily privately controlled Federal Reserve led an effort that guaranteed almost $13 trillion of taxpayer money to bail out the financial sector.

It was this same sector that, through its crimes and speculation, had almost caused the collapse the world’s financial system. Yet many of these wealthy gamblers were bailed out while the needs of the public were mostly ignored. The interests of the wealthy on Wall Street took precedence over the interests of Main Street. Warren Buffet stated it well in a November 26, 2006, New York Times article: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

When most of the Wall Street bailout occurred,there was nary a word about the consequences for the deficit or long-term debt. However, since then, there has been a steady drumbeat about the debt, with particular concern raised about Social Security and Medicare, two programs that greatly benefit the public.

On Feb. 18, President Obama joined the debt effort when he created a commission to make recommendations on reducing the budget deficit and long-term debt. The commission co-chairmen presented their personal proposals just last week, a few weeks before the full commission’s results are due. As expected, the commission co-chairmen laid out a proposal that mostly, but not completely, targeted programs benefiting the public.

I am personally all for being fiscally responsible, but it needs to be done in a way that protects the public’s interest. For example, instead of the path they took, the co-chairmen could have presented ideas such as:

~ Reinstating the progressive tax levels from the Eisenhower era, thus requiring that those who greatly profited from the financial crimes and speculations of this decade share in the sacrifices demanded of “we the people”;

~ Placing fees on speculative financial trades/activities that would raise large sums while simultaneously decreasing the risk of another financial disaster;

~ Ending corporate welfare;

~ Re-regulating the nation’s utilities to prevent price gouging and to provide better service;

~ Eliminating the endemic fraud and incredible waste in military contracting;

~ Reversing the wasteful privatization of the military effort and other public work;

~ Greatly reducing the military budget, which is almost equal to the rest of the world’s military spending combined; we need a military for defense, not for running an empire;

~ Ending our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and paying reparations for the devastation we’ve caused;

~ And enacting single-payer health-care reform.

The co-chairmen clearly could have taken on the greed, fraud and waste inherent in our corporate-dominated system that benefits the few at the top, but they didn’t. Unfortunately their proposals were not surprising. In “The Wealth of Nations” Adam Smith warned us about a similar situation: “The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.”

How much longer will we tolerate the transfer of wealth to the top while we are made poorer and poorer? Almost a century ago Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Which do you want, democracy or oligarchy?

Ron Forthofer was the 2002 Green Party candidate for Colorado Governor. He lives in Longmont.

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