Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Question of Balance

It struck me recently in a Facebook discussion with one of Betty's cousins (technically a first cousin once removed, if anyone cares)  what the real problem with the current conservative "small government" idea is.  The problem is checks and balances, arguably the wisest thing our Constitution writers ever did.  In the problems of their day - big states vs. little, legislative vs. executive, etc. - they set up a system where neither side had control.  The bicameral legislature and other structures made it very difficult for one side to dominate the other.  One side could not tyrranize the other.  This concept is a very large factor in the success of our republic so far.  Indeed, it is a major reason that our government is not even larger than it is now. 

But we have a problem now.  Business, specifically "Big Business", is now effectively out of control.  In the recent banking crisis, the government bailed out several of the largest banks, because if they went out of business the ensuing chaos could have ruined the entire American economy.  They were making high-risk loans, and why not?  It wasn't their risk.  Either the borrowers repaid, or the government covered the loss, lest the entire country collapse.  The automotive industry got a similar bailout, for a similar reason.  So the Fortune 100 are immortal; if they screw up, no matter how stupidly, they have the U. S. Treasury to fall back on. 

Someone, somehow, has to provide a balance.  In the late 19th century, as America transformed from primarily agricultural to primarily industrial, we had a similar situation.  Corporations and industrialists simply went to Congress or the state legislature with bags of cash, and went home with empty bags and favorable legislation.  Bosses and supervisors followed their employees to the polls and directed them how to vote.  These abuses were overcome, but only with great difficulty.  Not coincidentally, the labor unions began organizing in this time.  After the Roosevelt era reforms, labor unions were strong enough to be a counterbalance to corporate power. 

But now, the unions are too weak to be an effective balance to the corporations.  This is unfortunate; Big Labor is the most economically sensible balance for Big Business.  So what is left?  Only Big Government.  This is hardly ideal, but I see no better alternative.  Benito Mussolini himself said that Corporatism was a more accurate name for his system than Fascism.  I really don't like living in a system where a CEO can move a headquarters, disrupting thousands of lives, just because he wants to.