Friday, December 5, 2008

More about political quizzes

Since so many of us are jumping on the Political Compass / World's Smallest Political Quiz bandwagon (you know, I've never known what a bandwagon is, or how one actually jumps onto it), I thought I might offer my own opinion of these quizzes.

I know, for example, that the World's Smallest Political Quiz is set up by Libertarians, and as such, it is biased towards their views. I think the Political Compass might also be a Libertarian construct, but I don't know that for sure. Now, the current economic meltdown, caused largely by a severe lack of regulation on Wall Street and bad management in Detroit, should give anyone considering joining the Libertarian Party, which advocates for less government intervention in the economy, significant pause. Indeed, I would argue that the current economic crisis is one more nail in the coffin in which lies the discredited idea of laissez-faire capitalism championed by the Libertarians.

Both of the political quizzes referenced above, especially the "World's Smallest Political Quiz," define "freedom" as "lack of government intervention," whether in economic affairs or social policy. In an era where lack of government regulation has taken away so many people's livelihoods and prevented them from enjoying the freedoms they're supposed to have a right to enjoy as Americans, such a definition of "freedom" is not valid.

Lack of government intervention on Wall Street has caused thousands of Americans to get sucked into untenable and predatory mortgages, eventually causing them to lose the American dream of home ownership that they had worked so hard to achieve. Lack of government intervention in Detroit has allowed the inept management of the Big Three automakers to drive those companies into the ground, and may lead to the loss of millions of jobs and spiral our economy deeper into recession. Lack of government intervention in health care has meant misery and premature death for millions of Americans without insurance coverage.

These realities don't sound like the freedom that America promises. These realities simply sound like the freedom to fail, to be crushed under the weight of impossible economic realities, to find yourself penniless and destitute, without even a bootstrap to pull yourself upright.

That's the "freedom" that unregulated capitalism has given us.

And yet these Libertarians still insist that government is the opposite of freedom. What a joke.

The truth is that capitalism, left to its own devices, will always have high peaks of economic prosperity followed by deep troughs of economic misery, and the working class will always be hit the hardest by such fluctuations. Sensible, comprehensive, government regulation of business and trade is the only way to both put a ceiling on the peaks and a floor on the troughs, helping to ensure that prosperity is spread to the most possible people. In times of economic crisis, government must take an aggressive role to shore up whatever is failing. In this case, fully nationalizing the banking and auto industries wouldn't be the worst idea, and might actually be cheaper in the long run than throwing billions of dollars in bailout money at these two sectors. Nationalization would allow the government to fire inept and corrupt management, impose new rules and regulations to improve business practices, preserve jobs, and keep the industries from collapsing and driving the economy further into decline. When the economy improves, and the banking and auto industries are solvent again, the government can sell them back to the private sector, thus recouping the costs incurred through nationalization. The key is that the regulations that the government put in place during the economic crisis must remain in place once the economy improves, so as to prevent another crisis.

The point is that government is not the opposite of freedom. Quite the reverse is true. Whether it's the police force keeping you safe in your home, the highway department keeping your roads in a safe and driveable condition, the water board ensuring you have clean tap water, or the SEC imposing sensible regulations on Wall Street to root out corruption and prevent economic chaos, government is the only real guarantor of freedom.

Brought to you by your friendly neighborhood social democrat.