Unless purposefully passed on from one generation to the next, both skills and memories tend to dim and lose their meaning. So it has been with the memories of what unregulated capitalism cost the nation in the years before the New Deal.
Why did things change for the worse in 1980? That was the year Ronald Reagan, a B-grade actor and man of little intelligence, surrounded by neoconservatives and free marketeer ideologues, was elected president. Working within the context of generational forgetfulness, he set us all on a path toward deregulation and a resurgence of the free-market ideology.
It is to be noted that the country's most recent recession (2007-2009) has been the worst of the post-war era and a direct result of prior deregulation.
We are still on that path and the living proof of this fact is that the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, has just selected Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate. Ryan is the Chairman of the Budget Committee in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and author of a proposed federal budget that would slash social spending (and those safety nets) by some $3.3 trillion, ditch Medicare and Medicaid, while simultaneously cutting taxes for the wealthy.
Ryan is no less than the reincarnation of a free marketeer who wants to recreate the circumstances that brought us all 33 major economic downturns crowned by the Great Depression. How quickly people forget.
It was University of California Professor Robert Reich who recently explained what Paul Ryan in a position of real power would mean. "More than any other politician today, Paul Ryan exemplifies the Social Darwinism at the core of the today's Republican Party."
And what is Social Darwinism? It is a belief in the necessity of a struggle for survival where only the "fittest" survive. Here is how William Graham Sumner, the 19th Century's leading American spokesman for this outlook, put it. "Civilization has a simple choice. It is either liberty, inequality, survival of the fittest or not-liberty, equality, survival of the unfittest. The former carries society forward and favors all its best members; the latter carries society downwards and favors all its worst members."
This may well be Paul Ryan's version of the struggle between good and evil. By the way, liberty here is defined as the freedom of individuals to pursue wealth in an unfettered way.
Following this ideology, a Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan presidency would most likely increase the pace of deregulation and destroy what is left of the country's safety nets. It would ultimately devastate the middle class, greatly increase the ranks of the poor and unemployed, do away with union rights, and reserve prosperity for the upper class alone. All of this will be done in the name of liberty. And, it will be guided by an ideological paradigm that has already been historically proven to be disastrous.
We can speculate about popular reaction to these policies as time goes on. There will probably be eventual protest in the streets. Those in power will respond with red-baiting tactics and repression against the protesting victims of their policies. Also, keep in mind that these ideologues will almost certainly bring us a new set of wars. And, as we already know, in wartime repression comes easier.
All in all it is a pretty grim picture. It was George Santayana (1863-1952), a philosopher with both Spanish and American roots who said that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." We in the United States -- so thoroughly attached to our local here and now -- are certainly candidates for this fate.
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