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.
O ROMÂNIE FRUMOASA E SARCINA TUTUROR