Is it possible that with more public participation comes the need for less regulation from a centralized source?
Ask your neighbor if she likes her Medicare premiums and social security checks, and there’s a 70% chance her answer will be a resounding yes. Ask what political ideology with which she identifies the most, and there’s a 40% chance it’s conservatism.
The public relations industry has a prominent place in American politics indeed, and its value to the establishment is clearly rising. What’s central to a strikingly illogical dilemma—namely, how one can support socialized programs while identifying with conservatism—is the notion that “big government” is left-wing while “small government” is right-wing. These associations are, however, entirely (and crucially) exclusive.
Bureaucracy, red tape, inefficiency, and all of the words used to describe public institutions can be found across ideological lines. They extend frequently into the private sector, into small and big businesses, and therefore private property in general. Any institution or collective that finds itself in a position to make decisions will do what it can to concentrate more power and decision-making capabilities at the expense of others. The political systems in which institutions grow thus sponsor such behaviors or condemn them (to the extent that they’re democratic).
Well, conservatism is marketed as an ideology that diametrically opposes things like bureaucracy and inefficiency. This notion is marketed so well, that when Americans have to deal with AT&T or GM’s insanely slow customer service, they don’t see that as inefficient. Sure, it’s efficient for the company, which saves money by outsourcing their customer service positions to India. But it’s inefficient for everyone dealing with the company, because they have to waste an enormous amount of time courtesy of the technique that’s making AT&T more profits.
Another clear example can be found during President Obama’s push for health reform, when Americans were unremittingly told that the red tape of socialized medicine would kill their grandmothers. The overhead of their private insurance premiums, however, was never considered ‘red tape’. The middle-man position of the private insurance industry which has been gathering record profits was never categorized as bureaucratic.
No, those terms are used exclusively when discussing the problems of public institutions, like social security, which has pea-sized problems compared to the grossly wasteful healthcare system in the United States. But a brief look at the problems that conservatism supposedly targets leads to the wrong conclusion if one is actually concerned with solving such problems.
The answer is some sort of federalized socialism, with deep roots in radical democracy and an emphasis on egalitarian techniques of sponsoring participation. Michael Albert would accurately call it “self-management”, which sounds awfully synonymous with the conservatism that your neighbor subscribes to, despite the influence of Fox News and CNN reinforcing its illogical connection to the conservative elites. Self-management in practice is terribly inconvenient for power systems—it’s only when the term is used in theory and carries little or no meaning that it can be used by the elite media to propagandize further ideological defenses of property rights.
A modern interpretation of classical socialism in the libertarian tradition would imply a more stable and universalized Medicare system. It would tax the rich and corporations at significantly higher rates to put more money in the pockets of those who receive and rely on social security, like your neighbor. It could mean giving your local union at AT&T a vote on whether or not the company ought to outsource more customer service jobs to India; perhaps the company would need the approval of the parental board at the local school system as well. After all, the entire community in which the company is based would be affected by the loss of jobs and customer support if AT&T were to outsource. Should the twenty person board of directors and investors at AT&T have the right to adversely affect an entire community or region at its leisure?
Therefore, with more public participation comes the need for less regulation from a centralized source—namely, the government. In the long term, more democracy and greater participation should have the effect of reducing the size of government, a concept for which the conservative brand is supposed to advocate. But when the real problems that society faces come into focus, and away from the reactionary narratives in which right-wing organizers present them, the answers that are most inconvenient to the political establishment begin to appear. The next step is to maintain pursuit of the answers, regardless of their inconvenience to both the public, which must organize to activate them, and those in power.