Wednesday, June 3, 2009

General Motors

The American taxpayer is now the majority shareholder of General Motors. The Canadian taxpayer also has a considerable interest. What would Lenin and Mao have to say? Even Atlee. Obama has a lot at stake here. He had Hobson’s choice. He’s inherited the whirlwind that others helped create.

The New York Times yesterday had a column claiming that Reagan’s actions in removing the New Deal safeguards began the slide to the present financial crisis. It figures. People forget the reasons why such measures were introduced. Here, Douglas and Richardson followed the same path. Our welfare state arose from the depression.

Under Reagan and Bush public debt increased. So did private debt. Here, Kiwisaver and the Cullen Fund were attempts to alter that culture. The knee-capping of both will have long-term consequences. With the best will in the world the individual cannot always be responsible for their own well-being. Forces beyond their control can sweep away years of industry and thrift.

I am not advocating the abandonment of personal responsibility. Rather, I am arguing that the State has a role to ensure fairness and justice. The present American reaction to this recession suggests that unfettered capitalism has its limits.

At a personal level I didn’t make a conscious choice to be a public servant. I drifted into teaching, found I enjoyed it and from there on followed where opportunity arose. I never wanted or expected to make a fortune. The work was satisfying and gave me space to pursue my literary interests. I assumed the welfare state and a pension at the end. I have been lucky. But will others be so fortunate?

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