Democratic Underground

Get the Government Off Our Backs?
July 23, 2001
by Ken Alford

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 follow.

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 investment.

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