Craig: How deregulation has failed us
The last decade of American politics has been difficult to watch. The American public has been witness to a collapse of the housing market, a meltdown of the financial system, and now an oil leak that threatens the stability of the ecosystem of an entire region of our nation. Yes, troubling times indeed.
Many of our current difficulties can be traced back to recent policies of deregulation. These policies were touted by Bush and his cronies as the catalyst for economic development. The past two years have shown us that what deregulation really leads to is economic persecution and corruption.
Some economic conservatives will tell you laissez-faire government policies allow the private sector the freedom to operate optimally and that the free market will regulate itself as corporations are held accountable to the good of the American people by the principles of choice and supply and demand. The problem with this theory is that corporations have no motivation to consider the good of the collective whole. Rather, their singular interest lies in profit motive. What does Goldman Sachs care if you lost your entire life savings because they knowingly advised you to invest in stocks they knew would fail if they stood to profit by it? What does BP care about the ecosystem of the Gulf when lax regulation of offshore drilling has allowed them to maximize their profit margins? No, we must come to acknowledge that private industry will always sacrifice the well-being of the American public to enhance its bottom line.
As appalling as these instances of corporate greed are, however, do not blame them for this construct. It is not their job to protect the American public; that is why we have a government – to protect and serve the interests of the American public.
As stated by Rousseau in “The Social Contract”: “The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before.” We join a society because we recognize that we cannot protect our individual liberties alone. Thus we sacrifice a small aspect of our individualism to better serve our individual and collective needs.
This dichotomy was outlined in 1833 by mathematician William Forster Lloyd in his pamphlet, “The Tragedy of the Commons.” This document posits a hypothetical shared field where all community members allow their animals to graze. As a rational being, each individual seeks to maximize his gain, asking, like a corporation seeking to maximize profit margins: “What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?” Inevitably self-interest will spur some individuals to sacrifice the well-being of others to further their own interests as they add more than their share of animals to the collective burden and thus overuse the field to the detriment of the general whole.
Government thus serves as an objective outsider that prevents abuses by the few in the interest of the general public. It is there to preclude billionaire hedge fund marketers from exploiting your savings for their own gain. It is there to ensure that oil companies raking in billions in profits from our country’s natural resources do not destroy the environment for generations to come.
In this day and age where the word “government” is used so pejoratively, it is crucial to recognize that we have entered this social contract for our own benefit, that government is here to serve our interests. While our government, like all institutions, is fallible, at least we know its interest lies in the public good rather than the profit margins of a select few. If we have learned anything from the past several months, it is that we need such an institution to protect us from the likes of BP and Goldman Sachs.
Steven is a Silverthorne resident, educator, husband and father of two, and vice-president of the Summit County Library Board. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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