The Call for a Constitutional Convention
The Modern Society and our Agrarian Beginning
Adam Smith described a system where some work little and receive a lot, while others work a lot and receive little. It did not take into account the plight of the slaves, accept perhaps as property, and is a model based on an agrarian society. Its primary analysis was an explanation of how commerce would prosper more effectively without a king as the primary arbitrator and hoarder of wealth. The king controlled everything, and claimed ownership to every item, even every apple on every apple tree. We have reached the same point today, except this time we are a modern society and the corporations have assumed the role of the king. Copyright law and the litigious nature of our society show how aggressive we have become to claim an equally perpetual ownership.
As the small farm agrarian nation has receded, the federal government has driven an expansion of power in our private lives. The right to vote, to due process, and a great body of law have all served to both empower more people as well as enforce limits of individual power. With the rights that the government conferred, it also has grown in power. For every right it expanded, it has assumed the power to regulate. So as we as citizens have grown more accustomed to more power, we have also grown accustomed to a stronger do-all federal government, capable of both granting favor or imposing restrictions, based upon your point of view.
Industrial society has made our interdependency stronger, which in itself has become a source of power. Corporations lobby and drive our laws and priorities based on their self-interest. The plight of the worker and society in general is left as an afterthought. All legislative battles are between large corporations and the forces of the people at large, usually in the form of labor, smaller businesses or a specific industry, and the forces of the government interests.
In an agrarian society there was no national grid of power, transportation, communication, food, health care, banking, insurance, entertainment, news or distribution. In today’s society, national enterprises are becoming more and more the norm. America is not homogenous politically, but it is culturally and economically. The power of the individual industries and companies has become equal to or greater than the power of the federal government.
Politically we have been long divided. Not simply democrats versus republicans, but city versus country, employees versus employers, industry versus conservationists, franchised versus disenfranchised. These oppositions are not singularly by chance, the free enterprise system perpetuates it. It is a “check and balances” that the founders envisioned. In an agrarian society, their vision and fear was the dominance of one state or a group of states over another region. The Civil War is a testament that their plan failed. Slavery was defeated in favor of the utopian ideals as stated in our founding documents: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The free enterprise system was unable to arrive at a just solution then, and it is unable to arrive at a just solution now. Self-interest is not a utopian ideal. While its existence must be accommodated in a political solution, our economic ideals should be the same as our social ideals: utopian. For our social life we have the Bill of Rights. For our economic life we need a Bill of Mutual Responsibility. Relying on the alleged balancing powers of free enterprise, rather than articulated utopian principals, is what has perpetuated our economic divisions. For us to be effective, we need to break the vested interests from the cycle of wasteful priorities. The free enterprise system needs to be replaced by one of Mutual Responsibility.
Too Much Responsibility
At some point, and some would argue it was long ago, the federal government will be doing more things than it can do well. The war on terror aggravates this situation. Likewise the states, lacking the resources of the federal government, are underpowered in this new nationally homogenous industrial society. With the rise of security concerns, two million citizens incarcerated, and a legal process that serves as an aggressive weapon, we are growing perilously close to losing the stability of the middle class. Much of the activity of our government serves the interests and the competitive nature of corporations. Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex, and his plea was ignored. A government of the people, by the people, for the people may well perish from the earth if the power of the modern day slaveholders continues unchecked.
Politically there are three main groups at play: corporations, labor and government. The political parties, for the most part, serve either labor or the corporations. The people have a vote, but within this framework it is diluted by those with greater resources. Since the political parties serve those with the resources to support them, the parties have come to resemble advocates for either the “Labor Corporation” or the “Industry Corporation.” It is a battle between two narrow self-interests that leaves many Americans unrepresented.
Our social utopian ideal of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness can been seen as under attack by the free enterprise model. Self-government is being defined and executed on a national corporate scale. There is no local control, individual rights or freedom, independence of action or liberty. As we exit our agrarian society, we find ourselves controlled by an industrialized nationalized cultural and political power. It is an Orwellian system. Our destructive habits have more power than the players engaged in it. By “working the system” corporations are empowered to exclude those without resources from enjoying self-government, but they themselves are helpless to change the system. Many representatives leave Washington because they cannot bear to be a part of the system. For the wealthy, philanthropy is the only way to correct the system.
The novel 1984 was not about Big Brother deciding everything, it was about thought control and Doublethink. It was not enough that people live as slaves, it was required that they actually believe their slavery to be the best situation possible. It was death to a utopian vision for allegedly practical reasons. Specifically, that we should serve the model, rather than the vision. In this sense, we have all becomes slaves to free enterprise. This resulting form of slavery will be more complex to stop than by a war with muskets. We need to replace our entire legal infrastructure.
Back to the Beginning
Any new utopian-inspired formula must also begin at the federal level, for it is there where all our wisdom, rights and freedom resides. But if checks and balances no longer work, then what will? The answer to motivated self-interest is mandated Mutual Responsibility. Self-interest, as the founders believed, is a power that can be harnessed. Voluntary duty to self-governance, which augured no critical consequence in agrarian times, needs to be mandatory in an industrialized nationalized society where resources are concentrated. There are many examples of mandated Mutual Responsibility that the government currently imposes, for example, pollution control and health codes. Free enterprise has no element of citizen duty.
What is required is an expansion of corporate responsibilities and a narrowing of corporate freedom. Rather than issuing unfunded mandates on the states, the government must issue corporate mandates to effect social responsibilities. The social burdens placed on government are caused by the failure of corporations to value anything other than profit. To relieve the burden on the government, corporations must be a partner with social responsibilities.
Government is experiencing a cyclical failure. It is too busy dealing with the problematical social effects free enterprise causes, and the Corporations resist any change in their philosophical responsibilities. Like the slaveholders of the past, the corporations will give up the right to unchecked immoral profit unwillingly. Unlike 150 years ago, this will not be an armed conflict between different regions of the country. We can accomplish this utopian change with a series of simple votes.
The objective is to find the balance where the government continues its natural expansion of personal rights, but simultaneously contracts in size and scope, and shifts many of its social burdens to these new industrialized national cultural private powers that the corporations have become. We can trust private industry to do what is good for itself, to be motivated. What we need to do is grant them the power they have, but also extract from them a new Contract of Mutual Responsibility.