Monthly Archives: March 2011

An economy has a purpose

In the American tradition, governments have a purpose – a reason or set of reasons that they exist at all. The Founding Fathers felt compelled to make this clear – first, in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Conservatives often argue that government has gone too far and strayed from its true and right purpose. They often use this argument as a justification for cutting government, especially human services, even in better economic times than we have now.
Liberals and progressives absolutely should fight the conservative vision of the purpose of government.
But we must not stop there.
We must make it clear that an economy has a purpose, too.
That purpose is to provide the people within that economy with the necessities of life. And to the degree to which a given economy is not delivering those necessities to its people, it must be deemed a failure.
We can argue about what those necessities are. At the lowest level they would have to include food, water, clothing, and shelter. These should be as fundamental to any economy as liberty and civil rights are to a democratic government.  Beyond those basics, some modern-day necessities of life could include education, health care, transportation and communication. Again, for an economy to be considered successful, it should provide these necessities to its people. If it doesn’t, it’s a failure, even if GDP is growing.
Both government and an economy have a purpose, but it’s important to remember that, in the democratic American tradition, a common singular purpose unifies both of these institutions – freedom.
As FDR reminded us during his 1944 State of the Union address in which he introduced his Second Bill of Rights, “Necessitous men are not free men.” It’s just common sense that, in economic matters, the rich enjoy more freedom than the poor.
It is for us, as liberals and progressives, to fight for a world of true freedom, true liberty, by articulating the purposes not only of government, but the economy, as well.  Economies, like governments, exist to serve their citizens – not the other way around.