Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Quoting Milton Friedman?

The regular reader of this blog will be surprised that I might quote Milton Friedman, but this one sets the stage for other threads to follow.

"Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable." Capitalism and Freedom, p.2 (cited in Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill, Enough is Enough, 2013).

This follows serendipitously on comments made last night at forum we hosted on reforming campaign finance. Jocelyn Benson, interim dean at Wayne State Law School, and an expert on election law and her fellow panelists, Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, and Ken Sikkema, senior fellow with Public Sector Consultants and former Republican State Senate Majority leader agreed that change in campaign finance tends to come only after a crisis, or in their words, a 'scandal' like Watergate. So last night's forum explored some of those ideas across the political spectrum.

Ideas have power, as Friedman notes, but they aren't always ripe for the times. Possibilitator attempts to nurture ideas that might move us all closer to a better, more sustainable world. Last night's chief consensus point among the panelists was he need for total disclosure in funding any political activity. When one audience member framed the campaign finance conundrum as an 'arms race' some seemed less concerned about capping the flow of money.

My take is that indeed it is the hegemony of economics over everything else in our culture that is at the root of this and so many other problems, especially as the concentration of economic power slips into fewer and fewer hands. Benson highlighted how money controls who even becomes a candidate for office in an environment where money is so dominant a driver.

This hegemony is well summarized in this Robert F. Kennedy quote even before the Reagan-Thatcher-Friedman ideas took hold and have driven us to record levels of inequality while mortgaging the earth in the process.

The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit or our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion  to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. (1968)

One wonders this morning if the horrific tornadoes that struck Oklahoma yesterday could be the 'crisis' necessary to awaken the skeptics about the alarms climate scientists have been warning us about for far too long without any action. Keeping ideas alive is important work. They just might come in handy some day. Hopefully before its too late.