Capitalism is in a crisis. It’s the stock market roller-coaster, the crashing of the dot coms, the loss of thousands of jobs. I wonder what we – regular citizens – will learn from this. It seems it could be a turning point.
We could learn, for example, to be very wary of excessive concentration of corporate power. We have had twenty years of business deregulation in the U.S. economy – carried out by both Republicans and Democrats – and have been left vulnerable to corporate decisions that serve only the imperative of profit. Enron’s manipulation of the energy market in California comes to mind.
We could learn that greater government regulation is necessary to bring balance to the economy. We could learn that the government can only be trusted to regulate when it is independent from corporate control. We’ve witnessed the ascendancy of a class of revolving door corporate executives, who move in and out of government to carry out the agenda of their industry. The investigation of whether Vice-President Dick Cheney tried to shape U.S. energy policy according to the needs of oil companies is but one recent example. We could learn that the expertise of citizens those being governed must always pre-empt the expertise of those with something to gain.
Finally, we could learn that our cynicism towards politics is our own undoing. We know that only about 25% of eligible voters elected George Bush president, and that an even smaller number voted Bill Clinton into office. We could continue to withdraw in disgust from the political process, awash as it is in big money. Or we could become pro-active, supporting candidates who are free of ties to corporate donors, and through that, rebuild trust in our political leaders.
When I look at candidates, here’s what I’m wondering: Where is their money coming from? Do they believe, as I do, that government should serve its citizens, and regulate its private corporations with that in mind? Do I trust them to do what they say they will? Do they have integrity? If so I throw myself in to their campaign. But even if you have only one hour between now and election day, you can make your choice. Call a candidate who meets your own criteria and ask what you can do to help them. Our engagement at this grass-roots level is the best hope for integrity in government.
Ellen David Friedman is vice chair of the Vermont Progressive Party and has been active in the labor movement for 25 years.