Shooting ourselves in the foot

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Al Swegle, guest columnist

Iowa is doing many great things, and we are immensely proud. But at the same time, we are being led astray by a problem called pandering.

Pandering means to cater to the lower tastes. You appeal to a person’s desires. You exploit their weaknesses.

If you take a step back, you realize that many of the issues being discussed by candidates in this year’s election, in fact, cannot be solved by government, because it’s the private sector isn’t working, not the public sector. National politicians are being asked to solve corporate problems.

We’ve lost our corporate conscience, and the corporations pander. They tell the public what it wants to hear. Corporations say they need aid, but historically they haven’t responded in kind. Corporations have lots of freedom, but they don’t use their freedom responsibly.

The pattern is fairly consistent. Corporations don’t voluntarily act for the greater good.

Gun manufacturers, for example, already have the power to implement gun control by limiting sales.

Some asked public officials to sign pledges not to raise taxes. If you cut taxes, the thinking went, everyone would have more income. But when we did that, the government couldn’t meet expenses. We haven’t been able to grow ourselves out of our national debt. We’re boxed in both ways: We can’t lower the debt with taxes because we signed pledges, and we don’t have growth to get out of the national debt.

And so we come to international trade treaties. Here, the idea again was growth. The countries signing the trade pacts would reduce tariffs, and the lower prices would boost consumer spending. Multinational corporations would be enriched and they would, in turn, raise the wages of their employees or hire more workers. Bit it didn’t happen. The bonanza earned by the multinational corporations didn’t trickle down. Since the workforce didn’t get higher wages, they had no buying power.

So all these approaches didn’t work, not because of the actions of the federal government, but because of the actions of corporate society. The flaw in the thinking was to assume that corporations were going to voluntarily be good corporate citizens. Laissez faire. Get rid of red tape.

But corporations made money, and they saved their profits instead of passing those profits on to their employees. They pocketed their new wealth instead of investing it. Even worse, they moved abroad. They had no allegiance to their home country.

The theory was that even when the multinational corporations built factories in Third World countries, it would raise the wages and incomes of the peasants. But corporations feasted on the lower wages and American workers languished. Workers here making $20 an hour can’t compete with Third World workers making $1 a day. The hands-off Republican theory hasn’t worked. If corporations aren’t regulated, they act selfishly.

So Trump says to close the borders for Mexicans, Muslims and competitors. We tried that with the Smoot-Hawley Tarrif Act in 1929. That led to the Great Depression.

Politicians pander and they offer us old solutions. Ignorance is bliss.

• Al Swegle of Cedar Rapids was Gazette farm editor from 1968 to 1987.

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