Thursday, October 30, 2008

The CommonGood Stock Exchange

I have noticed a trend in my discussions with conservatives and pseudo-libertarians. On non-social domestic issues (that is to say healthcare, not marriage) we often agree on the end point (people getting medical care) but disagree on the way to get there. That disagreement can be boiled down to a two line Mexican standoff that goes something like this.

Conservative: Why would you put your faith in the government?
Liberal: Why would you put your faith in the market?

And let us not kid ourselves, it is faith, on both sides. No true democracy (what the liberal has in mind when he thinks 'government') has existed in modern times, nor a true free market (what the conservative has in mind, not the corporate-welfare system that exists today). If the endpoint is the same, and we only have reality on which to base our premises, then I would submit the following:

Government is more likely to achieve that endpoint swifter, and with far less cost to the public, than Markets.

Before I begin explaining myself, I would like to define some terms. Let us consider any step towards this hypothetical endpoint to have a value equal to 1 unit of CommonGood (CG). Likewise we will consider any step solely towards personal gains to have a value equal to 1 unit of PersonalGood (PG). To rephrase my statement in this light, Government is a body dedicated to the accumulation of CGs at the cost of PGs, whereas the Market is a body dedicated to the maximization of PGs at the cost of CGs.

Businesses, even publicly traded ones, are private institutions. The Enron scandal is but one among many examples of companies putting PG profits (personal or corporate) in front of CG profits. Thus, while Enron CEOs were racking up the dough, they were in turn robbing the public of CGs. This is because companies aren't judged by how well they're doing on the CommonGood Stock Exchange, but by how much money they are making. There is nothing wrong with this (unless you think it is the Market's job to produce social change). Due to that very nature, free (or freeish) markets will always resist regulation. The government, amongst other things, is a public institution. Its very purpose is to accumulate CGs and has built into it mechanisms for ensuring accountability and removal of those converting CGs into PGs.

We are all shareholders in USA Inc., and as such we have the ability to demand transparency and accountability (those necessary treatments for corruption and waste) in a way that we cannot demand from businesses. When the bottom line for the voters is the country, even politicians must take that into account. CEOs only need to watch their own bottom line, and make sure that golden ripcord is within arm's reach.

1 comment:

Free Radical said...

There's only one thing I can say: word.

Word unto your MOTHER.