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Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Last month in the Dakota Beacon (Sept. 2011) I wrote an article entitled, “Liberalism, Religion of the Muddle Minded”. I find the subject fascinating and feel I must add to it. How can one essay possibly cover the mysteries and inconsistencies and just plain muddled thinking of the Liberal and Progressive dreamers who seem to have total command of the Democrat Party? I can’t do it in one essay, and here is one of the reasons. A new book just out from author Jeffrey D. Sachs, entitled, “The Price of Civilization” with the subtitle: “Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity”. If you are wondering what the so-called Progressive agenda is and where it comes from you will find some answers clearly stated in this book. They are clearly stated--I did not say I like them, nor did I say you will like them, but we will see where some of this thinking comes from and the rationale of the Left and Progressives.

A short bio of Jeffrey D. Sachs, per the book jacket: he is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special advisor to Secretary-General (of the UN) Ban Ki-Moon on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. He is author of the NY Times bestsellers “The End of Poverty” and “Common Wealth”. In my reading of “The End of Poverty” three or four years ago I recall Sachs proposing that each developed nation invest (give, donate, grant) 7% of their GNP to under-developed countries, especially African nations, to bring them into a higher level of living.

Raising the living standards of half the world’s population is a noble goal, but the “How to do it” part is very troubling. The bulk of the work would be done through the United Nations--does that give one an uneasy feeling as we have watched the U.N. performance over the past 30 years?

Let’s look at “The Price of Civilization” which deals primarily with the United States of America and Sachs view of our nation’s condition as of early 2011. The theme of the book and dominant message is this: The government is the instrument, the channel, the agency, the means, the controller, the commander--the great body that will enable the future that Sachs envisions. He has great faith in government as the vehicle to administer the many and varied programs which he proposes, and as he describes each one there is little doubt that it must be government that does it. Before we pass judgment on that premise let’s look at some of the proposals.

In a chapter The Free-Market Fallacy the issue of “Economic Fairness” is examined. Yes, he is committed to the free market, and quotes Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek and Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman in several references. But all this free market should come under the close regulation of government to bring economic fairness in the allocation of income; fairness requires that government redistributes income among the people--taking from the richest and giving to those in need. Further, markets are prone to ups and downs which must be alleviated through government policies; and certain “public goods” (infrastructure, environment, education, research, etc.) must be provided by taking revenue from market activity. This is in addition to the taxing plans now in place.

Sachs advocates the reach of government into “the financial and business sectors through active policies and financial regulations and well-directed monetary and fiscal policies”. These sound like reasonable activities of government as long as there are real limitations and controls. However, as we have seen in recent years, government, as directed by congress and the president, cannot be controlled and it continues to grow more powerful and intrusive and expensive. Many people are very skeptical of our federal government, as it now performs, to meet anything that approaches “well-directed monetary and fiscal policies”. Does “well-directed” fit anything we have seen lately?

Another chapter is devoted to Washington’s Retreat From Public Purpose tells of the reduction in government programs to relieve poverty, reduction of federal money to research, insufficient monies to education, deregulation of some industries, passivity on environmental issues, tax reduction, and more.

In Sachs’ view the Reagan administration reversed the many years of a federal government that provided the public goods that Americans needed to remain globally competitive in a fair and sustainable society. He viewed the period of the mid-1930’s to the mid-1960’s as a time the federal government was a relatively trusted and respected instrument of democratic power. The Roosevelt years are credited with taking the country out of the great depression, guiding us through the World War, Truman gave us the peacetime boom, and then the war on poverty by Johnson. All this to the credit of government. Then came the election of Ronald Reagan who did such economic blunders as reducing taxes, deregulating industries, reducing the funding of social programs, and reining in federal power. Sachs blames the debt and deficit problems of recent years on the tax cuts of Reagan and Bush.

However, in a later chapter, Sachs says, “It is hard to think of a single recent case in which the U.S. government, led by either party, has produced a quantitative assessment of any long-term challenge and then followed through with a considered policy reform based on that assessment”. What is he saying? Our government is incapable of good decision making? Yet he is advocating myriads of programs and spending and regulation, all managed and controlled by a government that he describes as something approaching incompetence?

Along this same line of thinking Sachs views the passage of PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Obamacare) as an act of duplicity: “The entire health care debate took on a surreal air for the next fifteen months”. The details of the deals with various industry parts would not be revealed (some yet to be revealed) to the public, and in the end the government and PPACA lost the public trust. He is talking about a government we cannot trust.

Professor Sachs takes shots at a lot of issues. Business and corporations have a special place for his criticism and faultfinding. For example: business and corporations make too much profit; too much power in business (lobbying); taxes should be raised on business; more regulation, especially on environmental concerns; they should pay livable wages; they should reduce their energy usage; they should contribute more to the public good (infrastructure, roads, etc.). Some issues are valid and concerns to us as well, but he tips the balance far to the side of government which lacks in public trust even more than business.

There is a chapter devoted to “The Distracted Society” which has much for all of us to think upon. The electronic age we are in allows us to communicate, learn, entertain, and waste time in ways that are unproductive in most part, and certainly destructive to educational development. Much of the emphasis is placed upon commercialization--the selling of products and services by business and corporate interests--to the extreme that it is causing massive consumption of material products and individual debt. Too much slick advertising. Most of the consumer products are coming from overseas producers which contribute to our huge imbalance of trade, and contribute to the loss of production and manufacturing facilities and ultimately the loss of employment and jobs.

In summary and the point of this writing: There are many experts and intellectual minds who are advisors and counselors to the congress and presidents. Some are firmly grounded in their views of the proper role of government, and they have great respect for the constitution and the limits it places on the role of government. We also have those such as Professor Sachs who have visions of great societies where all people are cared for and have a share of the earth’s bounty. This is a worthy vision that may always be before us as a goal. However, to include in that vision a government that has the power to decide social and economic issues described above is very worrisome--perhaps frightening to some. The American people have seen our federal and state governments grow to become maze-like entities that consume ever-growing tax revenues while its rules multiply along with its inefficiency. Our government threatens to become our master. The methods to achieve a better political and economic and social society is in heated debate. There is a role for government which is not in debate by most people. What is in question: can government can be trusted with this grand vision? Can government be the administrator and provider of the solutions?

This is what the Progressive and intellectual minds are thinking; this is where they would take us. The book, “The Price of Civilization” by Jeffrey D. Sachs. A good read for Conservative, Republican and Independent.

Hal is a ND native who grew up near McClusky. Hal and his wife Lois live in Bismarck  and have four children and eight grand children.

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