“We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” ~ Louis Brandeis, U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1916-1939)
With bitter irony, I pondered a recent promotional item announcing an upcoming Republican event entitled, “Free Trade vs. Socialism.” Evidently the fundraiser proponents were attempting to exploit their overused claim of being stalwart defenders of the former and reliable opponents of the latter.
But it doesn’t take much thinking to see through the propaganda. Considering the party’s support of President Trump’s market-disrupting tariffs, there could hardly be more obvious violation of free-trade principles. Not only have these tariffs disrupted ongoing trade, but they have severely penalized American farmers and taxpayers – contrary to continuing claims by the Trump administration.
Under an emergency provision directed by Trump, taxpayers are now compensating farmers – whose sales to China have plummeted due to the tariff – at a cost of some $20 billion and counting. China has already shifted its sources of supply to Brazil and other nations, raising doubts whether America’s farm-owners will ever regain the enormous trade losses.
Moreover, among the unexpected consequences of Trump’s unilateral tariff fiasco is the reported clearing of Amazon forestland to make room for growing the soybeans and other crops now being demanded by China. Front-page news stories have extensively documented the alarming spread of burning in the Amazon, but less widely understood is its linkage to U.S./China trade disturbances.
The Tragedy of Willful Negligence
In 1968 Garrett Hardin published “Tragedy of the Commons” describing how resources shared by individuals tend to be over-exploited, as each extracts as much wealth as possible yet none has the incentive to conserve and protect the commonly used holdings.
Many observers have applied Hardin’s “commons” insights in analyzing threats to major ecological assets such as the Amazon Forest and the world’s oceans. Presently, the self-induced human tragedy is having global consequences that threatens our health, food-supplies, and natural life-support systems, as over-exploitation sabotages climate and ecosystem stability.
Not only has the commons concept been ignored, but similar concurrent warnings were cavalierly cast aside as inconveniences in the ravenous pursuit of economic opportunities, as if cumulative consequences were negligible – or could be made someone else’s problem.
Rather than prudently heeding warnings of “limits to growth” by the Club of Rome (1972) or Hardin’s commons-protection principles, over the past half-century avid proponents of the so-called “free market” have brought us to the brink of global environmental catastrophe.
To suggest that “free markets” could be, or should be, part of the solution is both foolhardy and dangerously misleading. First, given billions spent – or forfeited – annually on special tax-breaks, industry subsidies, and public-resource giveaways, “free markets” are long extinct.
Moreover, profit-makers are routinely rewarded for disregarding longer-term, bottom-line constraining impacts of their activities, no matter how damaging. Tragically, such negligence is accommodated by financially conflicted political institutions and elected officials obligated to corporate sponsors.
If these destructive forces induced by obsolete economic doctrine and politically corrupted malfeasance are allowed to persist, humanity faces an extremely dire predicament that ensures vast suffering and possible extinction. The consequences accumulate at alarming, accelerating risk to humanity. Take heed and voice support for reforms while there’s still time.
Thus, Trump’s trade-disrupting tariffs have not only stymied important income sources for working Americans and imposed compensatory burdens on U.S. taxpayers and consumers, but their collateral damages include accelerated destruction of the ecologically vital Amazon. All of this occurs at a time when the growing climate crisis requires conserving and restoring existing forestlands as well as planting billions of trees to help reduce accumulation of greenhouse gases that compound global climate trends. [See text box right.]
Unfortunately, the dangerously ill-timed political malfeasance and duplicity doesn’t stop there. As many well-informed policy observers have long noted, the U.S. government subsidizes corporate and business development activities to an extent that provides ample, irrefutable evidence of a kind of socialism – commonly known as corporate welfare.
Such subsidies include, at a minimum, an estimated $50 billion annually in support of the fossil-fuel industry. Similar government bail-outs are squandered in promoting a wide range of business ventures, often without any assurance of outcomes. Billions in tax-breaks, regulatory exemptions, grants, and loans have been offered to business despite failure to achieve the asserted results, such as decent-paying jobs and improved communities.
While these business bailouts, exemptions, and subsidies have flourished in recent decades, wealth has accumulated among an alarmingly small portion of the super-rich. Such wealth concentration was undoubtedly boosted by the 2010 Supreme Court Decision known as Citizens United, favoring corporate influence in Washington, which clearly aided the above-referenced government dole-outs to business.
According to Forbes, in 1982 America’s wealthiest 400 had an average net-worth of $590 million, which increased ten-fold [after adjusting for inflation] to $7.2 billion by 2018. Accordingly, the richest 5% of Americans now own two-thirds of the nation’s wealth. Meanwhile, incomes of the middle and lower-income groups have floundered, and those in the lower income-range have actually lost net-worth.
In defiance of an abundance of facts, the terminology used to promote certain political interests is being grossly distorted, employing calculated efforts to mislead and misinform the unwary electorate.
Since the ill-considered imposition of tariffs is a fundamental disruption of “free trade,” and spending more taxpayer money on corporate bailouts than on education and food-stamps is undeniably “socialism” (though a regressively warped, covert form of it) there is a conspicuous lack of justification for making these shamefully devious, falsely sanctimonious distinctions.
And none of this politically tainted misinformation even hints at, much less attempts to evaluate, resolve, or reconcile, the consequential rampant environmental damage occurring daily on a global scale.