It looks as if this crazy old world is in for a wild ride. The financial system on which the global economy rests is crumbling. Stock markets around the world are dwindling as panic-stricken investors seek a safer haven for their money.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. It all started with a man named Adam Smith (picture at right), a Scottish economist who lived two-and-a-half centuries ago. Disciples such as Ronald Reagan persuaded Americans to trust in the mythology of Smith’s “invisible hand.” The theory is that when individuals pursue their selfish ends society as a whole benefits because some natural force controls the “free market,” leveling its peaks and valleys.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the “free market” concept has prevailed throughout most of the world. Russia became an aggressively capitalistic nation. And as the illusion of wealth blossomed, even China succumbed to a kind of capitalism. India has developed a more vigorous economy, and throughout Asia prosperity seemed to be spreading.
The concept of a planned economy was derided. In the United States, advocates of economic planning were shunned as anti-American, and the country’s leaders eagerly embarked on an orgy of deregulation. But by unleashing untrammeled greed and cupidity, political leaders let loose a rapacious horde of looters who have plundered the wealth of the world and destroyed the true force on which capitalism depends – investor confidence. Not surprisingly, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” did not show up.
John McCain is among the most ardent supporters of this economic approach. He advocated – and voted repeatedly for – deregulation. As chairman of the International Republican Institute he has used fair means and foul to force his brand of unfettered capitalism on other countries. Even now, his prescription for America’s ailing economy is to slash taxes for the rich and powerful while cutting back Social Security, Medicare and other programs that help the old, the infirm and the disadvantaged. His argument is simply that by helping the rich get richer, the government encourages job creation, which benefits the nation as a whole.
This argument is so flawed that I won’t insult your intelligence by refuting it in detail. I would just point out that even if McCain’s approach created jobs, there is no assurance those jobs would be available to Americans. With the “free-trade” frenzy that has overtaken the world, most of the new jobs would be created in countries with cheaper labor than the United States.
If McCain (at left in photo) is elected Nov. 4, I see America – and the world – plunging into an abyss if despair. Not only are his economic policies disastrous but also his hawkish foreign policies are certain to antagonize the rest of the world. This is important because America’s economic problems cannot be solved without international cooperation.
I believe Barack Obama (at right in photo) can set us on the path to recovery. I am encouraged by his proposals to embark on massive development of alternative energy resources, to rebuild the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, to invest in the education of our youth, and to safeguard the health of our population. In the short term, these initiatives will provide a welcome infusion of capital into the economy, creating jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurs. In the long term, the country will reap such benefits as independence from foreign oil; cost-efficiencies resulting from improved infrastructure; and a more sophisticated and healthier work force.
However, those are not the only gifts that I see Obama bringing to the table. What gives me the most hope is his apparent reasonableness. He seems willing to listen and able to understand divergent points of view, and to evaluate various proposals without preconditions. This seems much more promising in a complex and conflicted world than McCain’s ideological fanatacism.
I believe that by enacting modest revisions in the U.S. tax code that would give a hand up to the middle class, an Obama Administration would create an impression of fairness, which the world would find reassuring. And by his apparent respect for the opinions of others, Obama would encourage international cooperation and reduce the domestic conflict that has led to political gridlock.
An Obama presidency would offer hope to the world and it is that very hope that I see restoring the confidence on which the global economy depends. The fate of the world is in our hands. We cannot neglect to vote. Not in this election.