THE GLOBAL CITIZEN: A Few Simple Questions for the Politicians
In the din of canned political phrases and stump speeches and angry ads, I keep waiting for some small part of the democratic discourse to address the issues I care about. I keep waiting for some politician to give even slightly honest-sounding answers to the questions I most want to ask.Questions such as:Do you really believe that any president can make the economy better or worse? Or do presidents simply luck into serving when the economy is going up or down?If families can get addicted to public welfare, why can't corporations? Why do we hear so many fulminations against family welfare and so few against corporate welfare?Russia in the grip of uncontrolled capitalism is at least as unpredictable and dangerous as Russia in the grip of communism. Given our obsession with the old Russia, why are we doing so little about the new one?September 1998 was the warmest September on record both in the United States and in the world. Montana had an average September temperature 7.4 degrees F. above normal; Oklahoma's was 7.9 degrees above normal. The first nine months of 1998 have each in succession been the warmest ever recorded. Why are we not even talking about this?If Europe and Japan can put taxes of one, two, three, or four dollars per gallon on gasoline and not crumble economically, not lose their democracies, not become uncompetitive, why can't we?Why do you claim to have ended the government deficit when you know you're just doing tricks on the books with the Social Security surplus, which you are raiding for current expenses? Who is going to pay off those IOUs in the Social Security Trust Fund when the baby boomers retire?Why, when you yell about the horrors of taxes, do you never mention payroll taxes? Eighty percent of Americans -- the bottom 80 percent in income -- pay far more in payroll tax than in income tax -- and the payroll tax over the past 20 years has gone steadily up. Why do you talk only about capital gains and income taxes, paid mainly by the wealthy? When you complain about capital gains being "taxed twice," has it ever occurred to you that wages are also taxed twice (by the income and payroll tax)?If big government running our lives is a problem, why aren't big corporations running our lives a problem?Why is it that when I was a kid and average income in this country was one-fourth of what it is now, just about everyone could afford full health insurance, but now it's a struggle for the average family to pay for basic health care?Why can't we even consider learning from the public health care systems that work smoothly and inexpensively (relative to ours, anyway) in Canada and all over Europe?Why do we always talk about companies making jobs for workers, but not workers making profits for companies?How is it that "globalization," which allows companies to move plants to places where people will work for one-tenth or one-hundredth the wage of the average American worker, can ever benefit the average American worker?As cars, appliances, airplanes and computers are increasingly made by workers who earn $3 or $10 a day, who is going to buy all the cars, appliances, airplane flights and computers?Why do sneakers made by workers who earn $3 or $10 a day still cost $100 a pair?Do you really think "globalization" is inevitable? Why? Do you want it to be?What is the difference between a criminal who puts poison in someone's coffee and an industrial manager who puts poison in the air people breathe or the water they drink?Why is it that we wouldn't consider for a moment paying someone not to rob a bank, but we don't consider it absurd to pay someone not to pollute or not to destroy a priceless natural resource?When you talk about "character," why do you seem to mean only sexual conduct? Isn't it a character issue to hand special favors to private interests at public expense? Or to have no compassion for the poor? Or to repeat publicly over and over claims that you know or suspect to be lies or evasions or exaggerations?If the answer to some or most of the questions above is "because someone pays public officials a large amount of money to make it that way," does that bother you? Do you truly, in the depths of the night, want to belong to a society that works like that?Why do most communications from politicians, especially campaign ads, treat the public as if it were stupid and ignorant? Do you really think the public is like that? Have you ever wondered what would happen if you spoke the truth as you see it? If campaign ads were substantive? If you didn't have to pander to rich contributors to stay in power? Wouldn't you like to belong to a society that works like that?If you're a leader, why don't you lead in that direction?Donella H. Meadows is an adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College.