One constant in government is the need for reform and regulation. It’s demanded across departments and policy, from oversight reform to tax reform to immigration reform, and so on down the line. But when problems in government grow too large and too systematic, it becomes increasingly difficult to correct them. This is arguably the case with the intertwined nature of America’s financial and political systems. Reforming the system that reforms is always a difficult trick to pull off, especially when it doesn’t benefit those who are most often in power.
Robert Reich, the former secretary of labor, recently penned an article for Salon. In it, he described what he perceived as America’s largest problems limiting fiscal equality and exacerbating economic struggles, low job security, and poorer opportunities for all. Why isn’t education as effective a route to economic success as it used to be, and as it’s been promised to young Americans? Why does overall economic growth no longer mean growth for all Americans? According to Reich, the answer has to do with something that’s become an important topic in elections: the relationship between big money and political influence.
Following the Hobby Lobby case, which contributed to the idea of corporate personhood, there has been a great deal of attention to how money is obtained to fund elections. In the most recent midterm elections, this question gained a lot of traction in states like Alaska, becoming a major topic of attack and discussion between candidates who each claimed the other was beholden to big business. In 2016, it’s already been brought up by Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who notes on his website that the campaign is “Paid for by Bernie 2016″ and “Not the billionaires.”
In his discussion of money and politics, Reich goes a few steps further to elucidate how money affects politicians, and how this in turn affects the division of wealth and struggling American workers. “These changes stem from a dramatic increase in the political power of large corporations and Wall Street to change the rules of the market in ways that have enhanced their profitability, while reducing the share of economic gains going to the majority of Americans,” wrote Reich in Salon.
He points to many different branches of law as sources of this problem, including financial law, bankruptcy law, antitrust and property law, and contract law, stating that all have adapted to an environment that is adventitious for big corporations. Law has evolved away from the type of structure that would benefit the average American as a result, Reich said.
“Workers worried about keeping their jobs have been compelled to accept this transformation without fully understanding its political roots,” writes Reich. “For example, some of their economic insecurity has been the direct consequence of trade agreements that have encouraged American companies to outsource jobs abroad.”
This type of policy is often pushed back on by Democrats — though notably not all of it, and not by all Democrats. However, what we ultimately see is the predictable back and forth between the left and right on the free market and small government versus big government. For Reich, the argument in favor of small government is a stumbling block in the way of systems that have been successful for other developed nations with successful economies and a more equal distribution of wealth.
This will almost always end up being summation of a disagreement like this. Because while both conservatives and liberals may be able to agree on the problems that big money present, the demands of small government proponents limit the ability to rein in these types of companies and their influence.
What is a middle-of-the-road solution that small government proponents can get behind that could still help curtail some of the issues that Reich outlines?
There are areas of government regulation that are already being seen that can be tweaked, carefully, without risking alienation of red voters. There is also the fact that some conservatives — for example, each Bush we’ve seen in office — that aren’t afraid of a little more muscle in government. While “big government” might not always be the right wording, there have been large programs pushed through by George W. Bush especially.
One example — not necessarily a popular one, but the fact remains — is the No Child Left Behind program. While that may be history we’re discussing, the future of the presidency does leave a door open for a more involved and carefully regulatory president.