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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Let us try Popular Sovereignty



     Our representative government has little representation for the middle class, and no representation of the poor. Allowing the economic middle class equal representation on par with the wealthy upper class would fundamentally change our society. The major economic issues, from wealth inequality to the federal deficit to slow economic growth, would all have deferent proposals. Proposed solutions would have to include needs of the middle class, unlike our current system where only the rich and powerful put forth solutions. The current system has been well defined and is known as “regulatory capture” or “rent-seeking”, neither is good for the middle class. This is the way it has always been, it is natural for the powerful to rule, which is why they are the powerful, it is also true that in every case the government eventually failed. The powerful rule for their own benefit, as a small percentage of the population this weakens the larger community.
     One example is the South during the American civil war, slave owners were exempted from the military draft, and much property of the plantation owner was exempted from taxes. This resulted in a popular saying, “A rich man’s war, a poor man’s to fight”, and many poor farmers from the back country dodged the draft and only paid taxes at the point of a bayonet. This was not the reason the South lost, but it did substantially impact its military capabilities. This is one historical example of a long pattern, the powerful benefit at the expense of the bulk of the population, the bulk of the population then no longer supports the society, and then the society collapses. This is not the sole reason societies fail, there is an extensive list of reasons, but it is one of the major reasons. We are a long, long way from any collapse, these are not the final days of the antebellum South.
     We know the answer; it is one of the basic beliefs of the American Constitution, the theory of "Popular Sovereignty". The principle that government is based on the consent of the population, our politicians have perfected the art of verbal compliance without actual compliance. Our governing elite preach popular sovereignty while practicing elite sovereignty.

You want an example? No problem.

     “Just Get The Government Out of the Way.” A very popular piece of wisdom, preached by many politicos and the subject of endless editorials, the "common sense" that regulations are killing business, and taxes are economic distortions costing jobs. Without regulation we get lead paint on children’s toys, larger profit margin for the rich, sick children for the middle class. Without regulation we get toxic waste products from refiners, larger profit for the rich, sickness for the middle class. Without regulation we get banks gambling with our savings, huge profits for the rich, bankruptcy for the middle class. As this theme is used, regulation that restricts a competitor is desirable, while regulation that benefits citizens are a waste of financial resources.
     The sole purpose of capitalism is profit. The insurance companies only interest in sick people is to get rid of them, the only interest a bank has in its customers is the fees it can charge, the only interest of any corporation is identifying the maximum price the market will bare. (Wait a minute, is it bare or bear?) This principle works very well, but it is silly to expect corporations to consider social ills. Curing cancer is incidental to making money, if the new pill doesn’t cure cancer, well, it cures restless leg syndrome.
     “Just Get The Government Out of the Way.” This is preaching popular sovereignty to support elite sovereignty. The beneficiaries are the rich, for they can escape the downside, while the middle class is stuck with the results. The problems we face are not problems for the rich and powerful.
     We have practiced popular sovereignty before, during the 1940s and 1950s and early 1960s the middle class had a strong voice in our government. While the rich got richer, so did the middle class, and America’s economic growth was spectacular. We had some serious problems, such as Jim Crow South, but since most had a voice at the power table, there were serious and fair solutions proposed.
     The question is how to practice popular sovereignty? How can the middle class get a chair at the legislative table? A good model is the religious right, large numbers of average people have banded together to support legislation of their common religious beliefs. This same type of organization could represent the economic interest of the middle class, it could demand quality public education, or it could stand for governmental fiscal sanity, insisting on a shared responsibility instead of the current exclusively middle class penalty. The religious right is focused, well organized and well lead, they have a voice. The middle class (which would include most of the religious right), needs to independently duplicate this model, trying to get the religious right to include these middle class concerns would defocus their efforts. Much of what we need is traditional Christian concerns, but we need a broader base than just the Christians.
     The solution to our problem is shared power, allow the middle classes a voice and the solutions will appear. That is the expected result of a representative government. I think we should give it a try.

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