Imagine You Are an Idiot —
August 3, 2011
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Americans are great kidders. Their democratic political system has developed in them a sense of humor and irony in which they have caught up with the rest of the world. There is historical precedent for this attitude. In observing the recent brinkspersonship over the USA’s national debit, I was reminded of the famous quote by Mr. Sam Clemens (our own Mark Twain):
Imagine you are an idiot. Now imagine you are a member of Congress. But I’m repeating myself.
In this state of affairs corporations such as Microsoft and the banks (not to mention insurance companies) have more money than the USA. Are not corporations citizens of their country? In the old days of Henry VIII or Czar Ivan the head of state would have liberated money from the banks — or from the Church (not to mention brigand insurance companies who rape and pillage their policyholders) — to replenish the State’s coffers. He would have eliminated those who disagreed with his policies (as Andrew Jackson tried to eliminate the 1st Bank US in the 1830s).
But our modern democracy and a functioning free-market economy (including the creation of jobs and common sense) must sometimes be be hostage to what passes for ideology. As we are constantly reminded, freedom isn’t free. The previous weeks have shown the price: $14.29 trillion and counting.
I am reminded of a quote by another American of Andrew Jackson’s era who preceded Twain. Henry David Thoreau wrote in Civil Disobedience (1849):
No man for a genius for legislation has appeared in America. They are rare in the history of the world. There are orators, politicians and eloquent men by the thousand; but the speaker has not yet opened his mouth to speak who is capable of settling the much-vexed questions of the day. We love eloquence for its own sake, and not for any truth which it may utter, or any heroism it may inspire. Our legislators have not yet learned the comparative value of free-trade and freedom, of union, and of rectitude, to a nation. They have no genius or talent for comparatively humble questions of taxation and finance, commerce and manufactures and agriculture. If we were left solely to the wordy wit of legislators in Congress for our guidance, uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual complaints of the people, America would not long retain her rank among nations.