2017-05-26 / Letters

Let the debate continue on

To the editor:

I’m a bit disappointed that my May 5 letter to the editor in The Sentry didn’t generate more responses, except for a supportive and appreciated May 12 letter from Ralph Zieff. I thought that my premise – that government management and funding of basic services, including health care, is preferable to placing those functions in the hands of private corporation – would elicit protests and stimulate a debate.

But let’s move on. I recall a letter to the editor some time back from one of our city councilors (Eben Rose), in which he responded to a suggestion, voiced by a resident at a South Portland City Council candidates’ forum, that Mr. Rose might have an “agenda” and therefore might be beholden to outside groups. Mr. Rose responded: “… of course we have an agenda, or we should have, because that is what representative government is – the public forum in which ideas, innovations, principles and positions are on display to be debated, discussed, dissected and ultimately voted on.” Bravo.

I also have an agenda: a progressive vision that values access to a healthy environment, affordable health care, clean water, affordable housing, nutritious food, a living wage for those able to work and equal opportunity in all aspects of life. These are rights due to all people without regard to race, national origin, religion, income or sexual preference.

Pollyannaish? Unrealistic? I don’t think so. In a country with as much wealth as ours, the greatest obstacle to achieving this vision lies in the distorted distribution and control of wealth, not in any limitations of human nature. The human capacity for cooperation and empathy is boundless, but our current economic system promotes greed and selfishness.

Most of the people who amass vast fortunes do so by gaining economic advantage without benefiting society. Economists call this “rent-seeking.” Although the term might apply to someone who rents a property he or she owns, it has a much broader meaning: “Rent-seeking occurs when an individual or business attempts to make money from its resources without using those resources to provide a benefit to society or generate wealth for everyone” (www.investopedia.com).

By contributing large sums to politicians and lobbying government, wealthy rentseekers are rewarded with laws, tax policies, regulations, tariffs and loan subsidies that restrict competition and increase profits for their corporations and themselves. Rather than creating new wealth (through production, investment or invention), they redirect existing wealth into their own pockets, often banking it abroad to avoid taxes. In fact, the taxpayers – you and I – are the ones who pay for the riches that flow to the 1 percent.

The extremes of wealth distribution that we see in our country today not only result in diminished living conditions for many Americans; they also pose a grave danger to our democracy as we move closer to a plutocracy.

So how do we go about rectifying this situation? We certainly can’t rely on the infantile, self-aggrandizing narcissist in the White House or on a Republican Congress that seems committed to depriving millions of Americans of affordable access to health care, assaulting the environment, and giving tax cuts to the wealthy. We need to build movements from local levels on up. There is certainly no lack of groups and activists – local, statewide, national, and even international – that are seeking our support. Mr. Zieff (channeling Justice Souter) has offered thoughtful observations and suggested some prescriptions “designed to educate our fellow citizens on the real facts.” Let’s continue a debate in The Sentry about our visions and how to achieve them. Are there any takers?

Will Fritzmeier South Portland

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