It’s been 240 years now since Tom Paine’s “Common Sense” came out, and it’s high time to apply some more of that to what’s going on here in America. Paine’s little pamphlet helped spark the American Revolution, leading to an enormous step forward in human civilization. We changed history by creating the first real democracy (only 2,600 years after that of ancient Athens), a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
All through history rulers have governed by totally controlling their people and all their activities, exploiting them like livestock. Our Revolution then led into our great Constitution, also a total game-changer by proclaiming the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and promising not to control our thoughts, beliefs, and many individual rights.
This new form of government now controls our lives and activities, (ostensibly by our consent), treating us as citizens rather than subjects, serfs, or slaves, and our revolutionary model has since spawned many other democracies around the world. But enlightened though it may be, after a couple hundred years, something in our exemplary system is apparently going awry.
Ideally our democracy should be governed by “all the people,” as was mostly possible in tiny Athens, but on today’s mega-scale of everything, that’s pragmatically highly improbable. Consequently, for a long time our nation has steadily been devolving into a government of the many by the few, especially since fully half of our electorate in the past election was willing to leave their governance to the few.
Democratically speaking, our nation is suffering a severe skew to the few and losing the commitment of far too many. To cure this life-threatening condition, we must curb, if not curtail, the corrupting influence of money (more exactly, of corporations, the media, and other vested interests), and find ways to engage and invest as many citizens as possible in the system.
Instead, in the last election through fear, demagoguery, and yes, misogyny, we the people handed our country over to the oligarchs. That’s precisely what happened in idealistic Athens and led them into tyrannies, as has already happened to many of the world’s new democracies. Just look how quickly the promising Russian democracy degenerated into oligarchy, and those poor people now suffer autocracy once more.
So why does democracy seem pathologically susceptible to the wealthy few? The US is indeed a government of (nearly all) the people and by (some of) the people, and it claims to be a government for (all) the people. In other words, the government’s purpose is to benefit us the people. But there’s a terrible flaw in the system.
To provide those benefits, our nation relies on an economic system based on the concept of private enterprise (capitalism), a system inherited from millennia of common economic practice. For all its wisdom, our Constitution simply took that for granted, never mentioning or defining an operating principle to be our life-support system. Recently, for the first time in history, capitalism was threatened (unsuccessfully) by a new concept (communism), but it has since encountered no other rival system and meanwhile remains unexamined and unquestioned.
While our democratic purpose is to benefit the many, capitalism’s purpose is to benefit the few. That’s a lethal disconnect between public and private intent. There being no motivation stronger than self-interest, our private enterprise economy is reluctant, recalcitrant, and even unwilling to provide the public benefits which our government requires of it. Instead, the wealthy few try to limit and control our government to preserve their profits and privileges.
The vast proportion of the profits of private enterprise are “earned” by exploitation of our publicly owned resources and of our citizenry as captive workers and customers. As a result, our national treasures and we the people are treated by corporations as subject colonies, as sources of unimaginable wealth deserving only the overlords’ charity and forbearance.
Mr Paine said much the same thing about the American colonies under the harsh rule of England and proposed that those little colonies could manage their economy much more productively on their own, without the overlord. Through our Revolution, we built a new social order, and now we’ve got an opportunity to create an even newer order to do the same.
We the people have empowered our democratic government to direct our activities, namely, our social and economic systems. As a matter of national security and survival, it has the power to and must draw a formal distinction between private and public enterprise. It is counter-productive and frankly, unconscionable for industries that exploit our national resources and the life-sustaining needs of us the people to be privately managed—for private benefit.
Our resources and public needs should be managed and benefitted by public enterprise. While private enterprise must remain possible and be encouraged to provide the niceties and luxuries of personal life, our national treasures belong to us the people. The time has come for an American Evolution out of capitalism into an economy of publicly managed enterprises.
Held in public trust, those enterprises will most effectively be structured and managed democratically, involving and investing everyone in the industry. Logically, the government must still direct and coordinate them for national purposes, but the management of those industries must be the responsibility of and to the benefit of the people.
Unless we evolve our economy, our splendid democracy will die. Call me utopian, but my common sense tells me that converting into a public enterprise economy will be the biggest giant step ever in mankind’s history, a brand new paradigm of human progress. Our American Evolution will once again set an amazing example for the world—making America not only great again, but spectacularly successful. We the people can do it.
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