Free (Falling) Markets

A society, government, corporate entity or individual cannot use subterfuge against the greater good by claiming an allegiance to “free markets”, a laissez-faire tenet distorted to justify the tyranny of the elite few over the majority of citizens.  Because we are a capitalistic nation, there are varying levels, too often separated by huge gaps between the top and the bottom, of wealth and need.  In order for this system not to implode on itself, it is mandatory that the haves take care of the have-nots.  If not, “free markets” can be defined as a phony economy, an oligarchy where power is determined by wealth.

I thought about this in response to a speech I heard by one of our most important civil rights leader and, though totally unrelated, the suicide crash of Joe Stack’s plane into the IRS building in Austin.  Both events demonstrate a plea for true equality, one social in nature and the other financial.  However, one party handled the anger so much more sanely and effectively than did the other.

I happened to catch that remarkable speech on the radio yesterday.  It was spoken by James Baldwin, author and civil rights activist, on September 25, 1963, only two weeks after the bombing, which killed four little girls, in a Birmingham, Alabama church.  His words were magnificent, direct and timely.  His tone was scholarly, yet definitely imbued with measured anger, although totally dedicated to pacifism and non-violence.  His restraint was just as powerful as his spoken words.  Here is an excerpt.  For the life of me, I could not find the full text or video anywhere.  The impact is so much greater if you could actually hear Baldwin speak, but this is the best I could do.  Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now!” is interviewing Carole Weinstein, Baldwin’s sister-in-law:

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a speech that James Baldwin made in New York. It was September 25, 1963, just ten days after the Birmingham church bombing that killed four little girls. This is some of what James Baldwin had to say.

    JAMES BALDWIN: We are not—are we?—at the mercy of our political institutions. If we created them, we are responsible for them. We have the right and the duty to overhaul them, to change them. We are not—are we?—so helpless, to say that the [inaudible] has to stay there forever. Who said so? I dare them to go in any Birmingham barbershop and talk to anybody. I dare them.And I think that commission, the appointment of that commission, the very notion, and the apathy with which the country has greeted it, proves my point. We have no right to allow the death of six children. And our common disaster and our common crisis and our moral crisis to be met in this way, it proves, if anything does, that the terms in negotiation must now be radically changed. One cannot negotiate with the representatives of one’s oppressors.It is time to let the nation know that the death of my child—I, as a black man—and the spiritual death of your child—you, as a white man—cannot be met by sending down a commission to find out what happened. We know what happened. What we have to do is prevent it from happening again. And in order to do that, one doesn’t beg the Birmingham city fathers for a truce; you use whatever weight you have to force them to recognize your presence in that city, in that state, and in this country, as a man, no matter what it costs who.

AMY GOODMAN: James Baldwin, speaking in New York. It was ten days after the Birmingham church bombing—four little girls killed there.

So today, how many Republicans, Democrats and Independents use the term “free market” as a ruse to benefit the highest echelons on financial power, through disastrous de-regulation, tax cuts for the wealthy and an abhorrence for any kind of social safety net for our citizens, in order to take from the poor and give to the rich?  Free market philosophy is a narrow-minded approach to maintaining the status quo, the greediness of which originated (in modern times) under Ronald Reagan and  flourished for the next thirty years.  The middle class has never recuperated from that folly, while the wealthy have become even richer.

I bring up this speech because it hit a chord.  Without intending to belittle, demean or minimize Baldwin’s message for racial equality, I could not help but apply his words to our situation today,  substituting today’s financial and government corruption for the civil rights abuses almost fifty years ago.  The analogy was stunning.  Baldwin called for nothing short of a re-structuring of our society to afford everyone in this country basic civil rights.  Our Black citizens were penalized for the way they looked and not for who they were.  Their children were being murdered as a scare tactic for them to abandon their fight for equality.  The assumption was to leave well enough alone and society would take care of itself.

Sound familiar?  Our industrial/financial complex needs to be re-structured from the ground up.  Our citizens need to adjust to a life where entitlements are not a given.  Fiscal and ethical responsibility needs to experience a rebirth, from the bottom up.  The people must demand it, adhere to those principles and then expect the same from their elected officials.  This process should be accompanied by reason, logic and a ban on violence.  Kind of what President Obama is trying so hard to do.

While Baldwin, undoubtedly angered by the lack of equality for Blacks, controlled his emotions for the sake of non-violence, Joe Stack allowed his frustration and anger with the system, specifically with the IRS, to override his desire for change.  His ultimate sin was to take the lives of others in his mission to seek revenge.  This act is no better than the murders of those four girls in the church in Birmingham.

The following is the Internet letter that Stack left behind.  The first part makes some sense, describing the free-fall of our government, economy and society into the patterns of rewards for the few and deprivation of the many, sacrificing the greater good for the greed of the few at the top.  He should have stopped there.  In his attempts to rightfully debunk the myth of a free economy, he succumbed to irrational anger, punishing innocent people in the process:

Let’s not kid ourselves.  A free market economy, in its purest form as we have witnessed since the times of Reagan, embodies nothing remotely “free”.  It is a form of economic enslavement which we will have to do battle against just as the Blacks had to fend off their racial imprisonment fifty years ago.  James Baldwin though, has left a truly admirable legacy in his fight for equality and justice.  Joe Stack has not.

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