Tea Party Needs Info

The most distressing thing about the Tea Party is not that it is right-wing but that it is ignorant. Right-wing populism could never make any kind of sense except as the right wing might connect with the idea of people as producers rather than mere consumers. But the holder of a sign calling on us to “Keep your Government Hands off my Medicare” is most assuredly not interested in producing anything. This is nothing but a confusion of deep feelings of anger with political thought and it is incoherent at best.

One of the hallmarks of the left-wing populism that held FDR’s feet to the fire was its interest in information and learning. And I wish that those few economists and economics writers that are not captives of the elite would break free of our American tradition of the uselessness of the intellectual and begin to teach us carefully and in some detail about the connection between Wall Street and Main Street. I read and like the words of folks like Galbraith (either one) and Baker and Reich. Greider and Krugman and Stiglitz and Johnson and others have all written about the folly of the Wall Street bailout with its tail of massive unemployment for the working class. But what they too often include is the proviso that something did need to be done but that certain other things, such as taxing the profits of Wall Street or seizing the banks should have been included.

I want to start at a position anterior to the problem. How is Wall Street connected with Main Street in this modern financial age? Look, an increasing number of us in rural America are realizing that the development of American agriculture over the last half century at least has been detrimental to the prosperity of the working people in rural America. We know that the huge crop enterprises and concentrated industrial livestock operations are as bad for us as they are for the environment and the safety of the food supply. So let me use my farm as an example, since I am not simply boasting when I say it is better for the rural economy than the dominant models, employing more people per acre and spending its income more locally.

We use a community bank and a local credit union for financing operations and small capital purchases such as machinery and sometimes parts and repair. When we have need for larger amounts of money, there are several avenues available to us through our bank or credit union. These are all government connected. They include the various USDA mortgage and farm ownership programs for land purchase, the SBA or small business administration for larger building projects, and the RFA (rural finance authority) of the state of Minnesota for capital support of new and untried ideas. Now this looks to me as if it is not Wall Street connected. But is it? Does the government at whatever level use Wall Street to make these programs available? If they do so, how do they?

It is easy to figure out that one way to remove the financier’s boot from our neck is to get away from instruments like the 401(k) plans and the like which “invest” our retirement money into making someone else’s dreams somewhere else come true through the device of a diversified stock portfolio (mutual fund). Not buying goods and services from countries that use slave labor is a no brainer. Buying local is easy to see, harder to do. It is also intuitive that we in the Midwest could all be better off with state-owned banks like the Bank of North Dakota. But we need help sorting out the harder stuff, in drawing the hard-to-see lines.

I know that the insurance industry is involved with agricultural land ownership. How much does Wall Street have to do with the recent precipitous run up in agricultural land prices as the refugees from the stock market bid up land? They are effectively locking out the next generation of farmers. Who finances the large concentrated livestock operations? Is government involved, or is this more an open market deal?

It is easy enough to say, and true, that Wall Street is buying the government. This didn’t just start with the recent Supreme Court gift to the corporations, either. If we the people in all our various occupations and localities and political persuasions are going to have any impact upon our government at all, we must absolutely have the best, most airtight arguments possible. Because we are going up against big money. Without the straight dope we are all nothing but a bunch of tea party idiots in strange hats. Do we the people need Wall Street? If we do, in precisely what ways? Could a cooperative or government approach be figured out that would exclude Wall Street? How about it economists? Real revolutions start with knowledge!

Jim Van Der Pol farms near Kerkhoven, Minn.

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2010

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