The Free Marketplace of Bad Ideas

June 19, 2011

And in Texas, what works is to swagger around like a tough guy, propagating a barely literate reading of the United States Constitution, and pretend to hate the federal government. And you rail about the rights that have been taken away, without being able to name one. And you publicly entertain having your state secede from the United States, and issue dire warnings about the galloping socialism in the land, and rage at the federal stimulus package and make a show of refusing to accept any of it, while quietly taking a cool $28 billion.

It is the refuge of a scoundrel to pretend to hate government, and further, to lie about the role that the American government — the richest and most powerful force for good in the long story of humanity — has played in the creation of the most profound economic engine ever, the America middle class. Notions of American greatness are inextricably intertwined with the American government, and anyone who claims that the government has only been an impediment to American progress is a liar, a fool, a rank opportunist, or a combination of the three. That GI Bill didn’t create itself. That Interstate Highway System didn’t build itself. Those astronauts didn’t send themselves to the moon. Your grandmamma and them didn’t get electricity in their farmhouse on their own initiative. Small business didn’t create a vast system of free public education, because an educated population makes for good workers and consumers. That was the government. The miracle of the free market didn’t end slavery, or solve the pernicious problem that followed of grotesquely institutionalized racism. Nor did the free market end child labor, and decide that food and worker safety were critical values to a civilized society, and essential to a civilized standard of living. That was the government, too.

There was a time, and it wasn’t that long ago, when Texas state leaders like former lieutenant governors Ben Barnes and Bill Hobby (both conservative Democrats) would go around the state explaining the tax bills that they were proposing to the people. Explaining that every dollar they proposed to take in in taxes would yield $8 on return of investment, because when you invest in people and infrastructure, you create the conditions for growth. And the people were enthusiastic for this arrangement, because most people know a good deal when they see it, and anyway, most folks used to have a strong notion of the ‘common good.’ That, of course, is the story of how this country was built, no matter how reactionary counter-narratives mangle the tale.”

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