Friday, October 12, 2007

The General Welfare & The Blessings of Liberty

The economy is a feature of our common wealth just as the environment is.

The notions of "general welfare" and "blessings of liberty" come straight from the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. While the Constitution (if upheld) does much to provide a structure in which manifestations of these concepts may flourish, fully creating them will require greater participation, imagination, and action.

In an earlier post, I listed factors that contribute to poverty. "Poverty" is often defined as a lack of wealth, a condition, or an attribute of the poor. Programs focusing on eliminating poverty may dwell on the immediate material needs of the poor; as well as their access to education or to wage earning positions in the economy. Also common are programs aimed at reforming individual "character" or skill-sets. I would like to propose that "poverty" is the most visible and extreme result of harmful economic mechanisms that the visibly poor suffer most acutely, but that these mechanisms are harmful at every level of society.

The "general welfare" can be construed to have two meanings. One meaning is a community that fares or," goes" well. Another is the older sense of "fare" as something that sustains a community. That sense survives in our use of "fare" to denote a served food. Both senses are important. One way of seeing the "general welfare" is as our common wealth. There are resources that are precious to everyone, irreplaceable and necessary to life. In addition, there are those resources that add to our sense of history, well-being, safety, and flourishing. We must strengthen and protect these resources. In addition to natural and cultural resources, there is infrastructure which enables us to travel (fare well), to get out of our private lives and into the public sphere which is also crucial to the common wealth. There must be public spaces where people can freely gather to express themselves and form common goals and activities to further promote the "general welfare." We are ALL impoverished whenever the common wealth is confiscated, privatized, or permitted to degenerate.

The "blessings of liberty," it is hoped, refers to our freedom from harassment and unfair infringement on our rights as well as the freedom to pursue goals of our own design. Whenever one person or group is able to strongarm others into doing their bidding; or forces others to pay out to avoid a penalty rather than to obtain a good; or creates unequal access to important resources based on arbitrary criteria; (and many other actions along these lines) harms are done.

In rebuilding a country which is in the process of being looted and bankrupted of its common wealth and which permits and promotes extortionary, monopolistic, and discriminatory practices (and again I'm sure there is more to the list but suffice it to say...) that we should recognize two important goals.

One-rebuild and continue to grow our common wealth. The environment, culture, agriculture, public transportation, public meeting and gathering space, built environments promoting physical activity and enjoyment, education, safety. We have enough resources so that everyone could enjoy the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter, and health. We could also support a variety of free presses and media.

Two-Fight against and fight back against practices that are economically regressive and further exacerbate inequality. Against flat taxes and food taxes; against predatory lending and heavily biassed contracts. It's easy to identify a regressive mechanism if you just think of a Robin Hood in reverse. Does this take money from the poor and direct it straight to the rich? Pay day loans, subprime mortages, high rents etc. etc...

Many of us have made adjustments to our lives to decrease our environmental impact and act politically to prevent destruction to the environment. The Economy also needs our personal commitment and political protection. The economy is a feature of our common wealth just as the environment is; therefore, just as we change our diets, recycling and consumption habits for the preservation of the environment, we can also act personally to protect the economy from destruction. Just as we agitate politically on behalf of the environment, we can agitate politically on behalf of the economy.

This might sound startling because we are so used to hearing corporations, wall street, and "economists" speak about the economy as though it were theirs and they know what is best for it. But every person is invested in our economy and it takes no special training to become an economic activist. Just think how in our language "environmentalist" does not refer to an environmental scientist, but rather anyone who has an awareness of environmental issues and advocates for environmental protections. Imagine one day all of us who wish to protect the economy as our common wealth are casually called "economists."

We can protect ourselves from harm by making a personal commitment to resist entering into high interest borrowing arrangements and contracts in which the other party has lots more power including the power to change the contract even further to their advantage for any reason they like in the future and where anyone tries to weaken our ability to sue for breach of contract. We can politically fight corporate power's advancing ability to rig economic transactions in their favor; end the corporation's status as a "person;"end fraudulent and corrupt businesses etc. It would take a whole book to make a list. (Read David Korten and Naomi Klein for starters.) This resistance depends on alternatives and working hard to ensure those alternatives exist is essential to success.

Our goal is to make our public and "private" relations more democratic, more equal, freer and more beneficial for society and for ourselves.

1 comment:

Bri said...

Right, I was going to mention Naomi Klein, but saw that you mentioned it at the end. Good post! Thanks.