The Compromise That Made Our Country Great
To understand what’s gone wrong with our country, we have to start with what we got right. What we got right was a compromise in the 1930s, the created the democratic capitalist system that we have today.
In the nineteen thirties there was a global battle between two different ideologies, capitalism and socialism. The promise of socialism, to the people that believed in it, was that it would create greater wealth because it was scientific and it would spread that wealth more evenly. In the United States of America, to our credit, we did not fall for the fantasy of socialism. Instead we took a different path. We stuck with capitalism, but we used democracy to make sure capitalism worked for everyone. Capitalists got to continue owning the means of production, the factories and mines and railroads and stores, but we would use the power of democratic government to ensure that every US Citizen would have a chance to participate in our economy and that every participant would operate under the same set of financial and legal rules. This compromise – we stick with capitalism, but everyone gets in the game and everyone plays by the same set of rules – is what made our country the greatest country in the world.
The compromise made economic sense. Capitalism actually works better – is purer – if there is one set of rules for everybody. If there’s one set of rules, free market competition decides the winners. If there are different sets of rules for different participants, it’s the government – the rule writer – that decides the winners and losers. Our economy is more efficient, and produces more wealth, if we let the market decide. Capitalism works better if there is only one set of rules for banking, investment and insurance.
Capitalism also works better if it can draw from the talent of the whole of our population. Talent doesn’t respect economic or racial boundaries. There are talented, motivated kids of all colors and creeds, with parents in all different economic circumstances. Our country wants those kids, regardless of their background, to be able to get in the game, to be able to participate in our economy. Talented kids become driven adults pursuing their dreams and growing our economy. Making sure that everybody got in the game, tapping into the potential in every part of our society, made the United States of America the economic powerhouse that it is.
It was also a fulfillment of the most basic promise of our country and government, the promise of equality of opportunity. Our country has never believed in a guarantee of equality of outcome, but we have always believed that the basic purpose of government was to extend individual freedom – to make sure that every individual had the opportunity and ability to choose the course of his or her life. To make sure that everyone had a chance to get in the game.
We don’t think about it, but our government makes sure we have a chance to participate in capitalism – get in the game – in ways large and small. Making sure there are good public roads we can drive on to get to work. Making sure that every person, regardless of their parents’ situation, has access to an education. Making sure the meat you buy doesn’t poison you. Using 40 hour work weeks, minimum wage laws and support for unionization to increase wages, to make sure capitalists shared the benefits of capitalism with their workers. It seems obvious, but to have consumer capitalism you need consumers. Making sure everyone got in the game gave our workers the money to participate in our economy. Clever entrepreneurs responded by creating things for people to buy, vacuum cleaners and radios and vacation packages. A virtuous circle was created – more money in the hands of workers created markets for more consumer goods, which led to demand for more workers to build the consumer goods.
This compromise, we stick with capitalism, but we use democracy to make sure everyone gets in the game and everyone plays by the same set of rules, is truly what made the United States of America the great country that it is.
Our country has slipped away from this compromise. We have slipped away from equality of opportunity. We no longer make sure everyone gets in the game. We have allowed our roads and bridges to fall into disrepair and backed away from our commitment to public education. We stepped away from our commitment to one set of rules for everyone. We now have two sets of financial rules, one for a very small financial elite and one set of rules for everyone else. Separate rules for banking, investing, even insurance. And all of this has taken a toll on our country. All of this has put our future in question.
We as a nation need to return to the compromise. We need to again make sure that every citizen has the ability and the opportunity to participate in our economic system. We need to again make sure that there is one set of financial, investing and insurance rules. Our country is still the greatest country in the world. But we cannot continue down this path. We cannot turn our backs on what made us the country we are. We must again return to insuring that every American gets in the game, and every American plays by the same set of rules. We must again consciously extend equality of opportunity to all of our citizens.