Thursday, July 19, 2007

No Profit from Matters of Life and Death

Capitalism is great for creating wealth. It harnesses a powerful motivator -- private self-interest -- to run its engines. Even Marx was effusive in his praise of the capacity of capitalism to produce goods and services in enormous quantities. The great drawback, of course, is the massive inequalities it creates and that are perpetuated by the money and power of the big winners. Unfortunately, we -- unlike European countries -- never developed a sustainable socialist tradition capable of winning national elections.

In general, I prefer to let the market system work (with appropriate regulation, which we now lack, to protect the health, safety, and welfare of citizens) to distribute income and wealth as long as it is done fairly, i. e., without special advantages that law can correct. We can use the tax system to produce funds for public purposes and put a steep rate on those who have enormous salaries and amass great wealth. Let the corporations decide much to pay their CEOs, e. g. We will just tax the obscenely high results at high rates.

But there are two areas that should be removed from the private profit-making arena: health care and national defense. These are literally matters of life and death. Expanding Medicare to cover everybody, e. g., will take care of the health insurance problem, and perhaps independent non-profit enterprises can be established to build weapons and produce the new drugs that scientific advances make possible. Economists can tell us how to do it and get the job done efficiently.

Health care and national defense are too important to national life to allow private interests to be in charge. Remember President's Eisenhower's warning about the dangers inherent in the expansion of the power of the "military-industrial complex?" Perhaps we should now speak of the "military-industrial-university-medical complex." Let people make money on other things, but the nation needs to make sure that the lust for money-making does not corrupt the enterprises that defend us from diseases that produce sickness and death and from the hostile people at home and abroad. I would suggest that it is not good policy to give people a reason to love wars and the the rumors of wars when the possibility of making a lot of money out of it is involved.

On the defense industries see:

See the case for nationalizing the defense industry:

John Kenneth Galbraith made a similar proposal in 1969 in an article in The New York Times entitled, “The Big Defense Firms Are Really Public Firms and Should be Nationalized.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Senate Democrats: Determined Idealists or Cynical Politicians?

Tonight the Senate will remain in session all night in the latest effort of Democrats to bring about an end to the Iraq war. Three motives may be in play:

1. They are determined idealists who are sincerely doing their best to end this tragic war.

2. They are realistic, smart politicians who are thinking not so much about Iraq now as about the elections in 2008. By trying to embarrass the Republicans who continue to support the President, they are acting in the long run interest of the country since more Democrats in Congress would be a good thing.

3. They are blatant cynics who know all these efforts will fail since the President is determined to stay in Iraq until whatever objective prevails at the time is achieved regardless of Congressional action or public opinion, so they might as well get as much political advantage out of the situation as they can.

My guess is that all three are present to some extent. Option 1 is naive and futile. Option 3 abandons morality. The second, while it has its own shortcomings, is the only one that comes anywhere close to the combination of idealism, realism, and pragmatism that is needed in these perilous times. There really is not a thoroughly good policy option for the Democrats given their slim majorities and the fact that the President has the final say given the impotence of the Congress to act with sufficient power to overcome Presidential vetoes. I have argued repeatedly that there is no good policy for Iraq at the moment. That is the larger truth. Senate overnighters cannot escape this fact.