Liberals actually try to solve problems according to sound management principles:
In the process, they also make sure that they conserve the strengths of our democratic capitalistic system: truly free markets, open and honest communication, and—to protect both the public and moral business persons—at least minimum standards for business competition.
This kind of proactive problem-solving best serves our long-term survival because it works for the prosperity of our total society, not just for the short-term benefit of the "educated," the wealthy or the most powerful.
Liberalism is a practical, problem-solving orientation. It is based on the belief that it is more effective—in both financial cost and impact on society—for government to proactively prevent problems from occurring or getting worse, than to ignore or deny them. It respects objective analysis, truthful communications and clear statements of assumptions and intentions. It believes that the freedoms of markets and society must be protected from the powerful and unscrupulous.
On the other hand, modern conservatism is a reactive, cost-reduction orientation. Since taxes are a chronic concern of America’s wealthy and powerful, conservatives believe that no governmental funds should be spent until problems get so bad that they can no longer be ignored or denied.
They believe in the freedom of the wealthy and powerful, not only to ruthlessly control markets for products and services, but to control workers’ wages as well. To justify such irrational managerial behavior, their communications to the public almost always have a hidden agenda.
No matter what the issue—the environment, taxes, education, medical care, or what have you—conservatives disguise their real objectives. This is absolutely devastating to objective problem-solving.
Setting standards for environmental protection is a classic example of the need for proactive management. It is more cost effective and better for the nation’s health to prevent rivers, lakes, land and the air from becoming polluted beyond reasonable levels—than to see them destroyed, and then have to spend huge amounts of money to salvage them.
This isn’t a matter of the American public giving up its freedoms to "big government." It simply means that our elected representatives determine minimum standards for the quality of our natural environment, instead of letting the actions of corporations determine those standards for us. As corporations have amply demonstrated, they’re perfectly willing to destroy the local river if it will improve their bottom line—and when they do, they will have set our standards for us.
It gets worse. Without minimum government environmental standards, the least ethical corporation can drive other ethical corporations out of business, if they don’t also cut their costs for environmental protection.
So, environmental standards protect not only the environment, but also protect moral business persons who want to respect the environment.
The same is true of other industries. To the extent that minimum standards are absent: The manufacturer who is most willing to brutalize his workers will drive humane manufacturers out of business. Same for the chicken processor who cuts costs for sanitation…the drug company that falsely advertises a medicine…the securities dealer who takes ruthless advantage of naïve investors, and on and on. Without minimum standards, the quality of industrial output degenerates, and/or costly problems are forced onto others—and moral persons are less able to compete.
Liberals believe that government should take actions to protect the integrity of the free market from unscrupulous predators—not only for the benefit of consumers, but for responsible business competitors as well.
Conservatives say "All spoils to the victor, no matter how he did it," and "let the problems occur—no matter who or how many are harmed—and then clean up the mess later."
Crime prevention is another example. Liberals, as well as the chiefs of the largest 50 cities in the US, feel that it is more cost effective—as well as more humane—to spend money to prevent crime, through education, community activities, and so on, than to let crime occur and then throw people in jail. Conservatives instinctively want to cut costs at the front end—crime prevention—and then, when there are no other options, face even bigger costs at the back end: policing, the courts, and prisons.
NAFTA and the strengthening of GATT (WTO) are classic examples of the short-term orientation of conservatives in economic matters, and this includes President Clinton as well as the Republican Congress. Liberals fought both approaches to economic "prosperity," because they would come at a much-too-high cost: the destruction of an economic system that benefited workers as well as investors—to be replaced by one that benefits investors at the expense of workers.
Sure enough, we got strong economic growth, but at tremendous cost and almost unsolvable future problems. The stock market exploded, but, as predicted, workers’ wages stagnated, many communities were destroyed, and we now have biggest income and wealth disparity since the depression.
The long-term ill effects of conservative economics are just beginning to be felt. The major economic problem today isn’t—as conservatives claim—"overproduction." It is a lack of buying power among the bottom 80% of the world’s population. People all over the world need the products being produced; they just can’t afford them.
The present economic crisis is ominously similar to the conditions in the 1920s that caused the depression: A conservative President and a conservative Congress, weakened unions, exportation of industry to other countries, stagnant wages, massive mergers, low income taxes on the wealthy, and most of the wealth in the hands of the top 20%. Just as they did in the '20s, modern conservatives have given us the boom of the ‘80s and ‘90s and—the upcoming bust.
In the not-too-distant, and painful, future, everyone will know that liberalism—and the proactive approach to problem-solving—is better for our country than reactive conservatism. Then we will go through the whole cycle again, and a frustrated but re-enlightened electorate will vote into office a new Roosevelt or Truman.
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