Sunday, May 17, 2009

Naples Daily News Guest Commentary 5/17/08

Capitalism, with a heart and a brain, will help U.S. recover

The “Evil Empire” of the extremist right has local advocates. Ultra-conservative views, appearing in the NDN, go beyond intelligent discourse, employing insult and polemic.

Jack Tymann and Andrew Joppa dance in lockstep to the siren strains of Ayn Rand, the goddess of reactionary economics. They promote the false notion that regulating business is tantamount to socialism. William Buckley, the founder of modern Conservatism, wrote, “Ayn Rand is dead. So, incidentally, is the philosophy she sought to launch. In fact, it was still born”.

Jack Tymann: “Wall Street wants the government out of the private sector”. Hello? We deregulated banking and the financial markets, and unfettered Wall Street waltzed us into recession. Does he want an encore of this danse macabre?
GM and Chrysler were unfettered but die anyhow. If laissez-faire really worked wouldn’t banks and auto manufacturers still be healthy?
Tymann wants all taxes cut. Studies show that the Bush and Reagan tax cuts created no net economic benefits except to concentrate wealth and increase the national debt. Compare: Clinton raised taxes and left us with a surplus.

Mr. Tymann calls Tea Parties …”the great American silent majority” in need of “national leadership”. His soulmate Newt Gingrich, ever ready to lead a new charge up Capitol Hill, is waiting in the wings. Fair enough. But do not insult the intelligence or the integrity of an opposition whose administration is supported by 2/3 of the American people, and whose President is liked by 81%.

Mr. Joppa, a former teacher of Business Ethics, has thundered at suggestions that the American brand of capitalism needs government oversight. He has denied that greed is present in the system. His defense of Tymann and Randian principles involve using intemperate and abusive language inappropriate for intelligent discourse. In these columns he calls the political left, “deranged and repugnant”.

He excoriates critics by calling them “progressive assassins”, “dangerous political mystics”. Even moderate positions are cholerically branded as “vacuousness”, “dangerous and erroneous hyperbole”, “misguided”, “ludicrous”, and “tragically na├»ve”. He offers strong opinion, and an avalanche of invective decidedly unintellectual.

In answer to my reasons why “America needs hybrid of capitalism”… Joppa attacks. He misquotes me as saying capitalism is dead. I said essentially that it needed reform. I pointed out that successful industrial societies of Europe, and China, even with extensive government regulation or supervision, are outstripping us. He is unable to explain this contradiction.

How well has American Capitalism been doing compared to industrial nations with other socio-economic systems? The CIA World Factbook 2008, the World Bank, IMF and UN, available on the Internet, give answers.
· The“Human Development Index”, measures health, education, access to resources and life expectancy. The USA is in 15th place behind liberal democracies of Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan and France.
· The “UN Poverty Index” shows the USA in 17 place behind almost every EU social economy.
· Our overall GDP, adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity, trails the EU.
· GDP real growth rate has the USA at #180 out of 216 countries. China is #8.
· GDP per capita. We are in 17th place. Adjusted for PPP we are 8th.
· Unemployment. We are 88 out of 200 behind Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, the Ukraine, Austria, Japan, the UK, Canada and others.
· Inflation. We are 67th, far behind the EU at #41. France is #10, Canada is #7, Netherlands is 15th, and Sweden 16th.
· Public Debt as % of GDP. We are #22. Austria, Norway, UK, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, China and Russia are better.
· Current Account Balance. We are in last place, #191. China is 1st.
· Reserves of Foreign Exchange and Gold. We are 23rd far behind China, Japan, Russia, France, Germany, and even Switzerland. Our reserves are less than Sweden, Denmark, and Finland combined.
· We are behind the EU in education expenditures, 57th out of 182; also in life expectancy and infant mortality, in telephone lines, cellphones, Internet users and railways.
These figures demonstrate that other countries have flourished under conditions asserted by Joppa/Tymann to be detrimental to economic and social development. One must earnestly question whether we still are, in Tymann’s words, …”the greatest, most prosperous” nation in history.

Time to move on, get away from stale dogma, evolve out of the cycle of boom and bust, give American capitalism a new heart, and brains for new impetus going forward. But before we can make progress, we have to be honest about the way we look at ourselves.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Christmas Carol

Dec. 24, 1937, Buffalo, N.Y.

The snowstorm delighted my kid brother and I, not for making snowballs, but for making nickels and dimes by shoveling out neighbor’s yards. We worked hard that day moving wet snow from back yards out to the curb.

Though tired, we had to go to church for evening service. The younger kids, like my brother, were to recite passages from the Nativity legend. He looked forward to it, and knew his piece by heart, having rehearsed for weeks. He wanted that small box of striped hard candy from the Pastor, a reward for effort. In those days, that was a treat.

The sermon dragged on into the evening. In the overheated little church my brother, wearing a woolen suit with knickers, nodded off. When the recitations began he was unable to stay awake.

All of the other children had finished when my brother's name was called for the closing episode. I shook him, and he went to the front, sleepy and totally disoriented. He turned and faced his audience in panic, completely forgetting his piece. He was paralyzed and in my pity I felt like shouting his opening lines.

The little fellow knew he had to do something but couldn’t quite remember what it was. After moments he improvised a desperate, unsolemn substitute. He surprised us by bursting into song: “Jingle bells, jingle Bells, jingle all the way ...”, and sat down with his candy fighting back tears against the laughter of the congregation.

It was his last performance. Later, he would become a fine engineer.