I’m On The Pavement, Thinking About The Government

I was really glad to see the comments on my post yesterday because it really opens up some lines of dialogue that I think are exactly what this country needs. Just about every afternoon I see the usual handful of people shouting “Jos Basescu” in the main square and I think to myself that a far more useful and ultimately productive approach is talking about these things rather than just shouting into the wind.

I guess there are three main avenues I’d like to explore in the near future.

1) What is the role of the government?

2) Is democracy the government that people in Romania want?

3) Is capitalism the kind of economy that’s best for Romania?

I’ve written about the 1989 Revolution countless times (including one post being translated into Romanian) but it always seemed a little odd to me that capitalism necessarily has to be the economic model that goes along with the political model of (representative) democracy.

To put it another way, the works of Engels and Marx literally do combine economic theory with political theory but in practice, due to a number of extraordinarily lengthy reasons to explain, what we call “Communism” in governance is almost always just totalitarianism by another name. In terms of how the government was operated, there is almost no difference between Saddam Hussein and Ceausescu’s regimes. Just one was called Communist and one wasn’t.

I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the past few months about the IMF and European Union funds and all the rest and there is certainly a general consensus that “foreigners do it better” and “Romanians do it worse”. So everything from a refrigerator to political management to even economic advice is somehow automatically better when it comes from a “foreigner”. Therefore whether it’s an EU program to build parks or the American ambassador telling Basescu to let in thousands of FBI agents and park American missiles on Romanian soil and torture foreigners in secret jails to IMF advice on how to slash government salaries and sell off state-owned industries, it’s “automatically” acceptable simply because it’s from those Wise Old Foreign Elves.

But at some point Romanians have to do something, including govern themselves. At some point, even though purely inaction alone, the every day actions of Romanians in this country are having an effect on what’s going on. But what does this even mean?

And what is the role of the government in the first place? If there is a belief that Wise Old Foreign Elves always know best and if industries and services were all better off being privatized and run in their capable hands, then what exactly would the government do? And what should it be doing? Should it be providing an education for its people? Should it be delivering the mail? Should it be policing the streets? Should it be managing its own natural resources? Should it operate its own national airline? Should it operate the railroads? Should it manage its own borders?

Technically speaking, anything could be privatized. Britain is busy privatizing its police force. Should Romania do the same? Should Romania privatize the postal service? What about the fire department? Surely a private company could put out fires for less money than the government, right? And if you can’t pay for their services, well then your house will just burn down.

And what about healthcare? What if the young lady we came across had no money to pay? Should we leave her to die in the street because she was too poor to pay for the ambulance or medical treatment? And what about the medicines for the elderly? Should we let them rot in their beds? These are the kinds of questions we need to be asking as we head down the road into the future. What role does the government have and what services do we want/need it to provide versus privately run companies?

Never in a million years would I consider myself a Communist, either politically or economically. But I am extremely leery of capitalism as an economic model as well. Let’s not forget that the 2008 “criza” (which is still ongoing in many ways) was caused by those Wise Old Foreign Elves themselves. Not one single Romanian politician was to blame for that, only bankers in London and New York and Geneva. So if they’re so almighty smart and wonderful and excellent that they just about destroyed the entire world’s economy, why are they held in such great esteem?

The second thing to remember about capitalism is something that’s so obvious that it seems strange to mention it, but the single, solitary, sole and only purpose of capitalist companies is to make money. That’s it. It’s not to better the world, it’s not to bring joy and happiness into people’s lives, it’s not to protect the planet and the environment, it’s not to bring political stability or anything else. It’s solely to make a profit.

A number of years ago I worked a case involving a company (in America) who would routinely buy rotten fish, dose it with bleach, and then more or less puree it and then sell it to the Army as food for the soldiers. Time and time again they would get caught and then pay a fine as punishment (because it involved the Army, it was a federal case, hence my tangential involvement). But I’ll never forget what the owner of the company said – because it was more profitable to buy rotten fish and then pay off the fines, they kept on doing it. And the owner is a prime example of what capitalism is all about, profit over everything.

The thing to remember is that while money flows seamlessly and effortlessly over borders, people do not. If it’s cheaper (and more profitable!) to get people in country X to do something well then thousands of people in country Y, who cannot move to country X even if they wanted to, are out of a job. The company of course is working solely on the basis of making profits. But what happens to the people left behind, who cannot flow effortlessly over borders? Does anyone really want to live in a country where hundreds of thousands of people are trapped without an income and all the misery (and crime) that entails?

On the other hand, I surely am not advocating the government take over everything either. Planned economies fail due to a number of reasons mostly relating to inherent instabilities due to scaling issues. Not to mention that absolute power over the economy leads to absolute power socially, which brings us right back to another totalitarian government, whatever the name it goes by (North Korea btw is officially the “Democratic” Republic of North Korea, so names don’t mean much).

And is a representative democracy the only political answer? I realize that worldwide it’s the most popular one, with variations of archaic totalitarianism coming in a distant second (whether a king, a despot or a benevolent great father). But are those really the only choices? I’d say not. But what is it that works best for the people of Romania? That’s the really important question. And even if the answer is a representative democracy, then how much representation? How many senators and representatives are needed to get the job done? Are there too many now or not enough?

Obviously this is a post about questions and not (my) answers. But I really do think it’s time for these things to be discussed. The generation that more or less “chose” Communism is largely departed from this Earth. All of us today more or less got handed democracy and capitalism in a kind of brief coup slash popular uprising that lasted about a week in 1989, without much discussion on anybody’s part.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is I’m glad to see the discussion beginning, both here on the blog as well as in other (limited) places as well. It’s definitely time for this dialogue to happen and I welcome all input into this matter. If you live in Romania (foreigner or citizen), I also highly urge you to bring up these subjects with your friends and neighbors because clearly the outcome affects us all.


10 thoughts on “I’m On The Pavement, Thinking About The Government

  1. Sam… what you’re talking about is not capitalism… you haven’t lived in a capitalism country yet… The most capitalist one in Europe is Switzerland… and probably the only one… yet they’re not pure capitalist either.
    What you’re talking about is fascism or corporatism… and it’s because government has too much power. In a free market everything is perfect!


  2. I have come to believe that to move forward to a better future we must first emrbace the present.

    The hardest fact to admit about the presens it that IT IS a best future possible coming out of the past. We have to embrbace the fact that the political and economical situtation (dire as it is) in Romania is an achievement of the Romanian people.

    Why is this importat? Because this reality is a bottom-up process of evolution. Attempts to make changes at the top will ultimately fail – as the “bottom” (the people and natural resources of Romania) will reject it.

    But more importantly, I believe that the only way to move towards something better is to harness what is naturally available here. It’s fairly obvious (if you are able to look past the superficial western cravings dominating modern Romanian mentality) that the riches of this country are actually its “poor” peasants. Romania is one of the closest countries in the world to sustainable living on a national living because of its peasants who know how to work land and grow food.

    Ceausescu knew that and that’s how he got rich (making sure every parcel of land was cultivated and produce sold off) and ironically, because land is now being dismissed and ignored (and destroyed), I believe that is why Romania is now becoming poor again.


  3. I’d never consider myself to be communist either, but since “communism” seems to be the word of the day I’d like to point out that from a purely ideological viewpoint there has never been a communist state anywhere in the world. Communism is a hypothetical ideology that has been used throughout recent history to legitimize a whole host of regimes. The so called “communist” states have invariably been some form of autocratic or totalitarian regime with varying degrees of socialist undertones.


  4. “Let’s not forget that the 2008 “criza” (which is still ongoing in many ways) was caused by those Wise Old Foreign Elves themselves.”


    The 2008 meltdown (just like the 1929 meltdown) was caused by the central banks.
    If Isarescu was a competent central banker, Romania could have avoided it entirely.
    If there’s anyone to blame, it’s him.

    So yes, let’s forget that stale narrative and replace it with the truth.

    (BTW, it’s not the first time I’ve said this in the comments … do you have a problem accepting it ? )

    Also, in the comments on your previous post, I urged you to ponder upon the implications of Dunbar’s number. That doesn’t seem to have happened, so I’ll do it for you.

    It means that the human brain doesn’t have the capability to have meaningful social interactions with more than 150 individuals.
    And since we live in nations of millions of people, what that means in practice is that 150 people get “the human treatment”, while the rest of humanity remains a mere abstraction.

    That’s why you have crap like the war on drugs, that’s why foreigners routinely get demonized (a pastime you indulge in yourself), that’s why individual rights get trampled upon in the name of “moral values”, that’s why it’s ok to sell rotten fish as food.

    And that is why authority should be exercised at the lowest possible level !

    And that is also why you need well-defined property rights.
    If we all still lived in hunter-gatherer groups of 100-150 individuals – there’d be no need for money and everything would be shared.

    But (quite unfortunately, I might say) we don’t live in that kind of world anymore.
    And that’s why private property is necessary – because without it, you’d end up with the “tragedy of the commons”.
    And that’s also why private property is better than state ownership.
    You accuse private businesses of being greedy. That they are – by design.
    But surely you can’t be naive enough to think that a public official is any less selfish.

    So yeah, the answer is quite clear – clear and well-defined property rights, minimal government, privatization of everything that can be privatized.

    Oh – and if we are to have a “social safety net”, there are much simpler and cheaper ways of doing it – one example would be a negative income tax.



    1. I’m not sure if I’m reading this right, but it seems to me like you’re advocating some form of libertarianism, perhaps even anarcho-capitalism.


      1. “My point” is that I was trying to understand exactly what it is you’re advocating and where you’re coming from.


      2. I tried to make my case as clear as possible. And I’d rather not be labeled, thank you very much.

        If you wanna argue, do it about ideas – not about ideologies.


      3. I’m wasn’t trying to label you and there’s nothing wrong with ascribing to a certain ideology. Besides, trying to find out if someone shares a particular belief system (ie. ideology) or not does not equate with labelling someone. If I had said something like “Aha, you’re a libertarian!”, that would’ve been labelling you. Even “Libertarian is as libertarian does” would’ve been more of an attempt at labelling you than what I actually said.

        Funny thing is all I wanted was to start a discussion, silly me. My mistake.


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