Fundamentals

by Lindy Davies

The path that our nation is taking is so egregiously wrong in so many ways, that one is hard pressed to know where to start in crafting some sort of "response", but respond we must. Here at the Henry George Institute, we seem to have the luxury of being "above the fray" in the sense that we're trying to educate folks about how to craft a sane and prosperous just society. I mean, good grief: that ambition places us very far from Day-to-Day Reality. There is a danger of learning to like it up here in theoretical la-la land, disdaining the multitudes who Just Don't Get It. But: a stand must be taken. If we're on the side of justice and truth, then something needs to be said.

"Patriotism," it's been said, "is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings." In terms of national policy, the United States has never really been true to the ideals of liberty and democracy on which it was (nominally) founded. But the US Constitution is a lot better than nothing, and the Bill of Rights must not be given up without a fight. Our Legislative and Executive branches have been peopled by thugs and opportunists for many decades now, if not for our entire history. As for the Judicial branch, for a while there we forgot about the Dred Scott thing and expected real guardianship of first principles, but recently that's been discarded as well. The "fourth estate" has been utterly abandoned by the mainstream media, but it does at least maintain some unfunded, incoherent vitality here on the Net. That's pretty much the state of things, and while I don't expect it to get better anytime soon, I would be heartened if we could somehow find the gumption to notice our government's cruelly ridiculous, useless and evil war plans against Iraq.

Don't get me wrong; I am no fan of Saddam. But come on, people. It's at the intellectual level of pro wrestling, and just as reality-based: Hussein hangs on by a defiant thread -- the leering villain about to be pile-driven by the star-spangled Good Guy. Are the Iraqi people suffering? Do we care? Saddam gassed his own people, we say! Well, yes, indeed he did: he gassed his own people with gas that we gave him, during the period when he was our ally, and after he gassed the agricultural Kurds in the North, we rewarded him with shipments of food to replace what the Kurds had been growing, but by all means, let's bomb him now because he gassed his own people.

It has been pointed out that this war effort couldn't be about Iraq's oil (not in the short term anyway) because most of Iraq's oil production is contractually promised to allies of ours, and it would be tacky of us to renege. But people who say things like that have never played the game Risk. For those of you who don't know, Risk is a popular board game of geopolitical strategy. Every game flirts with armaggedon; world domination is the goal; playing it affords one a Kissengeresque sense of utter amoral power. The Iraq thing, at any rate, isn't about the oil that Iraq will be pumping next year, but about US hegemony over the oil reserves of the Region. We are not all that fond of Saudi Arabia -- nor, outside of the Royal Enclaves, are they of us. Things are getting risky. We need a new Shah.

There seems to be no area of national policy in which the United States is not running as fast as it can away from the neighborhood of sanity, sustainability and justice. What is up, for example, with the Administration's positively medieval reproductive-rights policy, which seems to have been adopted directly from the Falwell/Robertson platform? And, of course, our Oilman-in-Chief subsidizes SUVs while summarily scrapping the Kyoto accords -- no mystery in that. Nor, really, is there any surprise in the lawsuit protection given to pharmaceutical giants, buried in the Homeland Security legislation... Or the requirement for high schools to hand over every student's address to military recruiters (or lose Federal funding), signed into law as part of the "No Child Left Behind Act". But I don't need to sum this up for you; the State of the Union speech is coming up. Osama's still out there, by the way, and he's just as pissed as ever.

The Henry George Institute offers a real alternative to the dismal fatalism that pretends to be economic and political analysis today. That's why we seem to be so obscure and so "ivory tower" -- because yes, it really is that bad out there. What we're saying seems outlandish because it seeks to define basic principles and reason out their logical implications. In a world of disinformation, an endeavor of this sort seems positively kooky. These days we are just not trained to look for the reasons for things. We've gotten out of the habit.

A critical read of a standard college economics textbook will show that all of the basic theoretical positions taken in this course (which follow directly from the economic thought of Henry George) are firmly grounded in mainstream economic thought. George's ideas have never been refuted; they have been obscured and obfuscated in ingenious ways. Of course, there is little danger of this truth coming to light via normal channels. Students do not apply critical analysis to their basic econ text (although it is where all the basic assumptions of the discipline are introduced to them). They read the textbook because they must, to pass the prerequisite in order to get on to the profitable stuff. But, puzzling out the buried implications of standard analysis can be a fascinating and rewarding hobby.

So that's why we're here. Think of us as a worm, a determined little agent of deconstruction, seeking out what's rotten in mainstream rhetoric and feeding on it, to gain strength. Consider taking our little course: it will help you see many things, much more clearly.

January 24, 2003

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