It is universally acknowledged that the United States is a capitalist economic system embedded in a democratic republic political system. When both system function smoothly, few question this arrangement.

But when one system or the other malfunctions, fingers are pointed and blamed is shifted…all according to one’s ideological beliefs. Take the British Petroleum/Gulf of Mexico oil spill for instance. The people of Louisiana and the vehicle drivers of the nation were happy to have the oil the offshore facilities produced. Jobs were created in Louisiana and the rest of us had gas for our cars. Both assumed the operator, British Petroleum, knew what it was doing and that the appropriate agencies of the U.S. government were regulating its behavior.

Problems arose, however, when BP’s “fail safe” system failed. Turns out it didn’t know what it was doing. And regulators in both the Bush and Obama administrations weren’t paying enough attention. Now the “free market” disciples are blaming the government, and the critics of corporate excess are blaming BP. The purpose here is not to join one side or the other (though both entities and both systems failed), but rather to encourage both warring sides to consider a new model.

Anyone who takes the trouble to read American history knows that, left to their own devices, corporate interest more often that not put profits ahead of the public interest. (Consider not only British Petroleum but also the operators of the West Virginia coal mine.) Likewise, the same history tells us that, when government relaxes its protection of the public interest and the common good, whether out of lassitude or belief that government should not reign in excessive corporate excess, bad things happen.

A mature society, one that understood both history and human nature, would reach a thoughtful balance that permits private corporate interests to drive economic growth, and make a reasonable profit, under conditions where the public interest, the common good, and the interests of future generations and nature were represented by well-trained, alert, dedicated, disinterested (that is to say, not regulators drawn from the industries they are sworn to regulate), and knowledgeable government officials made fail safe systems work.

This is not an impossible dream. It is how reasonable people behave. It is how a mature nation, which the United States of America should be by now, acts. It is the very least the people of the United States should expect from both corporate interests and their own government.

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14 Responses to “A Challenge to “The System””

  1. Guerrier Elisabeth Says:

    Dear Mister Hart,
    The areas of money and power are parts of the darkest zones in humans numerous dangerous weaknesses.
    This is not a moral statement, neither any religious approach, this is only a rational statement.
    It’s impossible to trust human beings left alone with their own greed.
    Power and money that brings power just touch the so exciting space of all-mightiness.
    Who could control that for him or herself?
    We always can argue for independence, autonomy, self-realization, all these speeches about individual freedom of the ultra-free market ideology but when it comes to a place opened with no limit over domination and possession, we aren’t in any responsible mental zone anymore but in what makes the verb “having” far more powerful than the verb “being”.
    And against this comes one only thing, that’s called law.
    Some external force able to bring instincts or drives back to a more reasonable and collective vision.
    Limits raised up to contain symbolically this insatiable need of power, for ever part of human nature and that can only be regulated with a social governance over individual proclivity towards lack of ethic.
    That’s what occidental model of democracy with the French and American conceptions historically tried to create.
    It appears that both are failing.
    E. Guerrier

  2. Phineas Says:

    Sen. Hart — I believe it’s more accurate to say “mixed” economy and “representative republic.” I don’t know why we use the words “capitalist” and “democratic.” Is it perhaps because our national psyche is best served by these terms? I fail to see why. Personally, I wouldn’t want to see the US a capitalist nation any more than I would want to see it a democratic one. If it were a capitalist nation, we would see an even further concentration of wealth. The minimum wage and OSHA would be gone. If it were democratic, the new Arizona “law” lowering the bar for ‘reasonable suspicion’ would be the law of the land, and burning the flag would be a criminal act.

    As an aside, I have a request. I know you were in England a few years ago, and earned your doctorate, I believe in political science. If you can spare a few words, I’d be interested to know what the most revelatory thing you learned during your studies was. In other words, was there anything that you learned that completely and utterly surprised you? Thank you.

  3. Sheila Luecht Says:

    Humans are an interesting species. I am not sure what other mammal or animal or species you can even compare them with. Our recorded history gives tremendous perspective on our governing experiments and our inability to set controls on our greed and destructive behaviors. Yet, in the midst of all this great techical and humanitarian advances have taken place. My point is we are still evolving and our behavior toward each other, as members in a society is about two years post kindergarten, because with all of our advances, we have still a stuggle with the concept of respect, sharing and responsibility. As a good mother, I continue to try and instill these concepts in my college age children. Who is responsible for this for government, institutions, and the masses whose greed and behavior is unbridled? We all end up paying the very human price, the devasting reality is no one wants to be the world’s mother, parent, the person who reigns in the bad behavior and continually trys to set the bar higher for respect, sharing and responsibility. If we put an ad on Craig’s list, do you think we would have any takers? So, realistically, we need rules, law, commonsense, consequences to hold people to some kind of behavioral level and impress honesty upon it all. In time, if you are not where I am on all of this today, you might one day be. In the meantime, work in your own little square and fill in as Mom. It just might make a big difference for your community, this country and the world.

  4. Gary Hart Says:

    In response to Ms. Guerrier, I don’t know that the post-revolutionary democracy model is failing in any ultimate sense. It just demonstrates its frailty under the guidance of those who dislike government of any kind. And to Ms. Luecht, the parents among us are supposed to be those we elect. We just don’t seem to be electing those who are up to the job. What I learned by returning to the academy rather well along in life is an affirmation that education is not something that does or should end at the age of 21 or thereabouts. It should be the job of every citizen to continue to learn, if for no other reason than that the world continues to change around us.

  5. Jeff Simpson Says:

    The right appears to have a difficult series of issues with which to contend in the run-up to November, 2010. There is little they can do to spin the lack of safety in the coal mines and on oil rigs except to say that the regulators were not doing their jobs and enforcing the rules that were already in place. The swing voters may not, however, see it just that way.

    Ultimately, lobbying money corrupts the democratic process, and instead of one man (gender neutral), one vote, we have one dollar, one vote. If I were king, I would outlaw lobbying as it exists today. I have fancied a notion wherein one can designate on one’s tax return to what sector of government one would like a sizeable portion of one’s taxes to go (this would probably be unconstitutional in that it would limit congressional discretion). Don’t like the military? No problem, designate your taxes to go to HHS. Don’t like lax pollution and workplace standards? Designate your tax dollars to go to OSHA and the EPA. And if you are in an industry wherein you are paying no taxes then guess what? You don’t get to vote anymore! Sort of crazy, and there might be some wacky unintended consequences, but the present system seems to be highly dysfunctional. When the country fell in love with Reagan and his small government philosophy, we allowed the idea of freedom to be conflated with the notion of a nearly complete lack of regulation in the public interest. Swing voters would do well to recognize the causal relationship between lack of oversight and greed run amok.

  6. Mad Hemingway Says:

    Who says America is reasonable or mature?

    God, guns, and professional wrestling provide the thinking framework for a lot of people in the US.

    People voted for Bush Jr for crying out loud.

    And then of course there’s Texas, where 22-year olds play high school football.

    Of course, there’s the Tea Party people who want the government to keep its hands off their Social Security.

    I think your hypothesis is a leap. (no disrespect sir)

  7. Gary Hart Says:

    To Mad Hemingway: some of us cannot curtail our optimism. My hypothesis is that, sooner or later, the adults have to take over.

  8. Publius Says:

    We spend so much time blaming each other; private sector blaming government, Democrats blaming Republicans, Blacks blaming whites – all vice-versa that we have missed the point. Look in the mirror people, we are all to blame for the disasters, the wars, and the economy. We Americans have it too good, we are fat and arrogant and dole out the blame anywhere than on ourselves. When was the last time any of us rode a bus or walked instead of climbing in our car for a short trip? When was the last time any of us have turned the thermostat up in the summer or down in the winter? When was the last time any of us cared that we as a nation continue to kill unarmed and defenseless civilians? You get the point.

    We would rather watch Lost, or some psuedo-reality show than take on the burden of our citizenry and cope with the ugly truth of our nations gluttony and hegemony. We are the most irresponsible, gullible, and conceited nation on Earth. We are not a mature country, we are a collective of spoiled brats.

  9. Tim Says:

    The issue with BP is the same issue with Goldman Sachs is the same issue with trade agreements is the same issue with raided Social Security is the same issue with cap and trade is the same issue as corporate personhood.

    That issue is one that is very clear. We have a ruling aristocracy regardless of party. We have a bureaucracy which does not serve We the People but instead serves those who serve themselves. Washington is massively corrupt. Maybe not in a way we can define prison terms but then Washington politicians have created current law to protect their pillaging of our society. Are there good and decent people in Washington? Sure there are. But even they are guilty of the complicity of silence. Those trying to pin this on a particular President or party are ideologues blinded by their faith in a false god. The system has always been corrupt. Muckrakers wrote of the massive fraud over one hundred years ago. Bribery of public officials was never even a crime until the mid 1800s. Before that politicians in Washington outwardly coerced payments or legal bribes for political favors. Our banking system is a massive fraud that serves no purpose to democracy. A fraud created by these same private interests one hundred years ago.

    I could easily design a public banking system that would nearly eradicate unemployment from the United States. I could easily create a market-based economy that would re-employ twenty million Americans in the next four years. I could easily solve the U.S.’s debt crisis. And, if I know easy answers to this and other economic issues, I must conclude the system is the way it is for obvious reasons. That is, fraud. Imagine what the cumulative conscious of 300 million Americans could do to solve our many problems. The reason why the issues aren’t fixed is fraud. Meritocracy means nothing where cronyism and fraud have replaced a written rule of law. I am no fringe element. I am a mainstream staunch Progressive so please no attacking of dissent as a Tea Partier or whatnot by other commenteurs.

    Our politicians have all but told the people suffering of hunger to ‘eat cake’. There is no economic recovery. There is only fraud and an attempt to save the status quo for obvious reasons of personal gain.

  10. Earthmother Says:

    So right on! Mature seems to be the key word here and the very thing this nation seems to be missing. Its tragic!

  11. Mad Hemingway Says:

    Duly noted.

    Had you been born in an earlier time, you might have been one of the Founding Fathers with optimism like that.

  12. Will Morgan Says:

    “It is universally acknowledged that the United States is a capitalist economic system embedded in a democratic republic political system. When both systems function smoothly, few question this arrangement.”

    If “Capitalism” can be defined as a “free-market” where any economic actor can succeed and any actor fail, then we do not have such a system. The Wall Street Bailout was evidence that what we actually have a preferential feudalism– in which huge and greedy actors are sustained in their present position by government fiat, and that they do NOT have to obey the same rules, that is, share in the possibility of Capitalistic failure, to which the rest of us must conform.

    As for the “Democracy” the founding fathers were, with the possible exception of Jefferson, against it. James Madison, in particular, rails against it, and spends whole tracts of the Federalist Papers trying to fetter the supposedly unsound power of “the people.” We should look at the situation with a sober eye. Even Norway or France or more “democratic” than we are.

    “A mature society, one that understood both history and human nature, would reach a thoughtful balance that permits private corporate interests to drive economic growth, and make a reasonable profit, under conditions where the public interest, the common good, and the interests of future generations and nature were represented by well-trained, alert, dedicated, disinterested (that is to say, not regulators drawn from the industries they are sworn to regulate), and knowledgeable government officials made fail safe systems work.

    “This is not an impossible dream. It is how reasonable people behave.”

    With all due respect, I think that what is left unsaid here is that what prevents “a mature society” is precisely the lack of a “social contract” within our neo-feudal economy. We are living in the year 2010, not 1950. Our jobs have been shipped abroad, we fight wars all over the planet merely for an out-dated notion of “prestige” or because a few hundred people here or there have been given some cause to despise us; we have a debt that has no bounds, a President who dresses in a tuxedo and throws a swanky party while a half of the nation’s fishery is destroyed, a politics owned and controlled by money and corporations, a currency in hock to private Bankers for the for the foreseeable future, a media whose entire purpose is to stoke the fires of “unreason” and a population apparently too stupid to recognize this, one reduced to ignorance or bread and circuses.

    It is important to understand that these things have been WROUGHT upon us by the top two per-cent of our population, they are not just accidental “glitches” in the smooth functioning of liberalism. They have happened because the nation-state principle and market capitalism ALONE do not contain, in themselves, ANY ethical constraints whatsoever– nor can either of these institutions, somehow, magically inculcate “reason”. To obtain “reason” a people must be FREED from servitude to the unreasonable. There must be the positive freedom to live simpler, more focused lives; not merely the negative freedom to conform or starve.

    Jefferson himself warned us of this stage of history. Only months before he died he wrote, “There are those, who, having nothing in them of the feelings or principles of ’76, who now look to a single and splendid government of aristocracy, founded on banking institutions, and moneyed incorporations, under the guise and cloak of their favored branches of manufactures, commerce and navigation, riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggered yeomanry. This will be to them a next blessing to the monarchy of their first aim, and the surest steppingstone to it.”

    Will Morgan

  13. Mad Hemingway Says:

    There are some very interesting points of view here.

    I recently wrote and posted an article over at FireDogLake ( http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/39333 ) for creating Government 2.0. The aim is to create a new progressive party.

    I really believe we need to rethink how our government is structured. Representative government in its current form does not work.

    For those who like really the page ideas, The Zeitgeist Movement has a moneyless society as one of its tenets. I’m still trying to figure that out, but with the current economic collapse, it may happen.

  14. Lizeth Gusmar Says:

    http://endgamenow.com/prophecy-predictions/they-sold-their-souls-for-rock-n-roll/

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