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I am William S. U'ren and I am dead. I was once a big noise in Oregon politics, an activist back in the days when Republicans were called progressive and there was an actual Populist Party. The history books say I am largely responsible for things like the initiative, referendum and recall here, as well as the direct election of US Senators. I ran for governor, once, when William Howard Taft was the Republican president, and I lost. Then I retired from politics and, thirty years later, I died. And almost everything I accomplished has been turned on its head and against the very people it was meant to help. Enough is Enough in Oregon!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Decentralize Ecomonic Power -- Just Part One of Part Two

Aside from aligning with the middle class against the plutocrats, Republicans (or Greens, for that matter) interested in finding their way to political relevance need to talk about decentralizing economic power.

This is tricky, though. This is a river into which one can wade too far and only people like the Wobblies would actually try to get to the other side. Such as they will always drown. Take it from a former Populist.

You are not, remember, a revolutionary. You are a Progressive Republican. It will be necessary and good to keep pointing that out as you fight first for control of your Party (or create a new one) and then of the country. Emphasize the plain lesson of history: if the likes of you are not taken seriously then there will be real revolutionaries with which to contend. You are here to take the wind out of the sails of both the Black Pearls and Flying Dutchmans of politics and economics, if you catch my drift.

In my day Progressive Republicans were strong in Oregon (and elsewhere) because, like us Populists, they took on the big interests. Timber companies and railroads owned the state legislature (and the rest of government, too) and they got bigger and bigger expecting the rest of us to just put on tin beaks and peck among the rest of the chickens.

The progressive reforms were aimed at preventing what you are going through right now, what's in the cards for ever-growing piles of money. We didn't want to destroy those interests and neither should you. We just tried to balance their power because we understood (as they did not, still don't and never will) that as their piles of money grew bigger and bigger they are not be able to stop reaching and taking more until they have destroyed themselves and everyone else in the process.

We were trying to cut them down to size and work around them, not destroy them. They can't be destroyed. You can only hem them in and work around them and then only temporarily, at least by any particular means.

The Republican Party (or a new party) will get a lot of support if it explains over and over, as we Populists and the Republicans used to, what large, concentrated and uncontrolled wealth does to self government. You have plenty of contemporary examples to make your case. Teddy Roosevelt didn't go very far into this, but he started talking up "trust busting" in a way that it needs to be talked up, again.

And his cousin borrowed a lot of Progressive Republican ideas after our wave had crested and the Party again belonged to those who controlled President Hoover (go easy on Herbert until you know more than you do about him. He lived here in Oregon for a while and his sin was no greater than that of any bought and paid-for politician. You may hear from him, again, too. He's not happy with what popular history has turned him into and who has more time to blog than the dead? Who has more of an inclination toward self justification?).

Now you are hearing a lot about enterprises that are "too large to fail," those that hold you all hostage (Not me, of course. There's not much percentage in holding the dead hostage--except metaphorically--although it's been tried).

Once again the people running these corporations have made themselves (and their stockholders, temporarily) wealthy creating an economic train-wreck and then turned around and threatened the rest of you with even more dire consequences if you didn't finance fixing the now-bankrupt system they created to make themselves rich at your expense, in the first place. And, once again, when it's fixed (again, at your expense) they will still own it and there will be another go 'round. It's like those movies of you love so much--Casablanca or Rocky Horror Picture Show--always playing everywhere for another generation to join the audience of those old hands who like to see it over and over.

I hear some Democrats in Congress lately saying things like "too big to fail means too big to exist" but they always over react and from them it sounds more like a slogan than a promise, or even a prayer. I can tell they don't get (or are in denial about) the implications of that: anything that has to be that big to work will impoverish and enslave us if it's left in the hands of people who understand its "value" and "possibilities" for making money (and therefore creating power).

So, you'd think that anything we truly need that also has to be that big must be firmly in hands of a government that understands the general welfare and is under the watchful eye of a populace that does, too. And that would be your mistake (and that of the Libertarians and the Socialists): none of us acknowledge human nature, at least in ourselves. If we don't acknowledge the truth about human nature then we won't understand the general welfare, at least when our own ox is involved. Any chance we get we all send the general welfare over the hill for a personal advantage. Can you look around right now and say, with a straight face, that people left to themselves have enough sense to govern themselves?

Fact is, we all need to be supervised: closely. No matter who we are there needs to be always someone who can stop us as well as someone who can pick us up when we fall.

So, government is not any more the answer than "free" markets. Keep those two grappling with one another and live in the space their fighting creates.

Don't worry too much about the D's; they will eventually go as far South as Nixon did to avoid doing more than talk that talk about counter-balancing control of wealth (Clinton did) and for obvious reasons. Only the "too big to fail" are up to financing all the campaigning necessary to bring in the sheep every couple of years or so. And if the conflict goes to another arena the "too big to fail" won't fail: look at the Wobblies.

So back off from the idea that the government ought to outright own large enterprises. Economic decentralization could be about something bigger than getting insurance companies out of the banking business, adjusting marginal tax rates and putting a state name after that of the pieces into which things like Standard Oil are divided, but there is only so far you will get with that bigger problem.

There is only so far you want to get. Does the name Robespierre mean anything to you? Trotsky? If not, Google them. If that doesn't get across to you then find a book about their times and if you still don't get it then click to link to IWW on the left and have at it.

As I said, you should only wade into this river--not try to cross it all the way. As Progressives, who are not revolutionaries, you should, though, at least clearly understand the basic problem, the problem that you intend to face with half measures.

Next: Decentralize Economic Power (part two)

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