Saturday, September 3, 2011
JOINT AND SEVERAL LIABILITIES
In an item entitled “American Idiocracy,” the columnist known as Schumpeter wrote in The Economist dated August 13: “American politicians are intent, not on improving their country’s competitiveness, but on gouging each other’s eyes out.” That apt phrase explains the universally low regard in which Americans hold both parties, both houses of Congress and the White House. However well founded, popular disdain seems to have done little to tame the “blame game” in Washington.
Perhaps if elected officials reflected on the law firms and other business partnerships many of them participated in during their time in the real world outside the Capital Beltway, they might see why a relatively lower disapproval rating is quite beside the point. Partnerships are formed to enable two or parties to cooperate pursue mutually beneficial ends. They may be competitors, vying for the same client. They may also be competitors for promotions, prestigious office space, and a bigger share of the profits when that time of year comes. Nonetheless, they are committed to work together to promote their agreed objectives.
Why not consider government as a partnership aimed at the constitutional objectives of forming a more perfect union, establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity? Those are the purposes for which the people of the United States established this constitutional government. Why not consider all elected officials to serve as general partners in that great and noble partnership? As such, why not hold them jointly and severally liable for the failures of the partnership?
To the extent that our union is less perfect, that injustice prevails, that there is domestic unrest, that the nation has failed to detect and deter threats to its safety, that the welfare of the country as a whole has not been promoted, and the blessings of liberty are unsecured – to the extent we have failed the constitutional purposes of the United States of America – then everyone involved should expect to be held fully accountable. Any partnership – a law or real estate firm, a manufacturing enterprise, a baseball team – performing as poorly as the U.S. government has been would have taken steps to reform its way of doing business, revise its business strategy, and revamp its executive corps.
It is folly to speak of a recession, a budget deficit, or a war as “Obama’s” or “Bush’s.” When the country as a whole is failing, our government as a whole is failing. All elected officials ought to be held accountable for that. No one has done enough to avert the mess our nation finds itself in. No one has even now offered a clear, comprehensive and credible plan to address the structural as well as the cyclical aspects of our economic woes. Government officials ought to be jointly and severally liable and need to find new ways to cooperate to promote the national interest – the general welfare – with diligence, dedication and a decent respect for the opinions of their partners.