October 13, 2008

On the folly and hubris of the powerful

“There is a way that seems right to a man and appears straight before him, but at the end of it is the way of death and destruction.” Proverbs 14:12

El Cabrero has been musing lately on past and present events. It occurs to me that people in general and wealthy ruling groups in particular are not always the best judges of what is in their own long term interest.

Take the decades of sectional conflict over slavery that erupted in the American Civil War as an example. The slave owning aristocracy and their intellectual and political retainers made a practice of indignation, outrage, insolence and provocation.

Vehemently opposed to any measure that might limit the spread of slavery, they dreamed of conquering and annexing Cuba, Mexico, Central and South America to form a grand empire for slavery. The opposed even moderate measures to achieve a modicum of political compromise.

With the election of Lincoln in 1860, something that they ironically helped to bring about, they were faced with a president who did not propose to attack slavery where it existed but who wanted to contain it within its current bounds.

When the southern states seceded and attacked the United States at Fort Sumter, they basically forced the enactment of the measures they feared. The United States immediately responded with the "Anaconda plan" of surrounding and containing the rebellious states. So much for the expansion of slave territory. We know how the rest of the story played out over four years of war and the abolition of chattel slavery in the south and the US as a whole.

You could see some of the same thing in the responses of US business elites to the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt--peace be unto him--during the Great Depression. The "economic royalists," as he called them, fought it tooth and nail even though it wound up preserving and strengthening capitalism in the US and laying the foundations for a broadly shared prosperity and decades of economic expansion.

Some people never got over that and planned for years to dismantle the remnants of the New Deal and unleash unrestrained capitalism. For three decades and with considerable success they pushed for lower taxes for the wealthy and for corporations, deregulation of industry, weakening labor unions and the shredding of the social safety net.

Now we are all "enjoying" the fruits of their labor.

As Bob Marley sang, "Now you get what you want--do you want more?"

It's about time to take the keys away from some drunk drivers.

ONE NATION, UNDER DEBT. The nation's spiraling economic problems, fed by failed economic policies, tax cuts for the wealth, the cost of the war in Iraq, and the Wall Street meltdown, could seriously weaken its standing in the future.

ANOTHER MARKET FAILURE. Employer-provided health insurance declined for the seventh year in a row.

HOW LOW CAN IT GO? Several economists weigh in on likely scenarios.

THINK THE BAILOUT IS EXPENSIVE? Consider the potential costs of environmental destruction.

ON A RELATED NOTE, CNN reports that a new NASA website provides up to the minute information on climate change data.

ARE MALES NECESSARY? Maybe not for some sharks.


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