the Government Off Our Backs?
July 23, 2001
Capitalism celebrates individualism. However, we do not live
in a individualistic state of nature. We have created a social
order which we call our government. Capitalism and individuality
can only thrive as part of a social organization.
Although many capitalists see the government as an obstacle
to maximizing profits, the truth is that capitalism is dependent
upon the public for survival. Capitalists depend on the taxpayers
to provide roads, airports, water, sewage, electricity, public
safety, educational opportunities, research and development,
etc. The capitalists will not invest in infrastructure. They
depend on society to do that for them.
If the public sector were to refrain from investing in the
infrastructure, the private sector would not invest and would
collapse from the taxpayer's neglect. A good example is how
private money built the railroads east of the Mississippi
, where markets already existed, but public money was necessary
to build them west of the Mississippi so the marketplace could
This is an important point to make because investment in
our country's public infrastructure has been cut almost in
half over the last 25 years. What does this mean historically?
The Roman Empire went through similar patterns many centuries
ago. In denying the need for government and social organization
, the private sector gradually gained control of everything
until the public sector virtually disappeared. The Roman people
stopped building and maintaining their infrastructure. Their
elaborate water and sewer systems were abandoned and had to
be totally reinvented a thousand years later.
The Incas in Peru and the Moors in southern Spain were both
once flourishing societies. They were dependent upon their
efficient irrigation systems. They went into rapid decline
when the Spanish stopped maintaining the irrigation canals.
Without public involvement and community interests, everyone
will tend to be an "individualist". If there were no public
interest, everyone would use as much water as possible and
no one would take the time to repair the pipelines. Eventually,
there would be no water system to use and everyone's standard
of living would fall. The businesses and capitalists would
collapse without the public support of our infrastructure.
What does this mean? If the government, i.e. the public,
continues to neglect the infrastructure of this country, then
individualism and capitalism will not survive. Unwilling or
unable to recognize that they are both products of a social
order called community, they will continue to misunderstand
the necessity of government. Investment must not only be for
the individual capitalist but for the common good of our society.
Remember this when the politicians tell you, "It's not the
government's money - it's the people's money." It is also
our society and our community. Neither can thrive without