Deals made by people with a stake, struck under the table, are being exposed. Amidst election fervor and the sweltering heat of Georgia, expecting lethargy beyond casting votes, there is perhaps hope. The election news moves between a moral political economy tethering on votes and jobs, switching the discourse from 1 percent to 99 percent of subsets of citizens.
When citizens are depending on food stamps, unemployment benefits, and Meals on Wheels, there is no sight near of Super Political Action Committee (PAC) dollar fatigue. It is electoral decadence and a profound governing system error that $10 million dollars from an individual donor is going to supporting one candidate – presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, when there are 46 million people living on food stamps and additionally 44 million living in poverty in America.
Not to forget, there is a Federal budget deficit of $1 trillion and a debt burden of over $15.7 trillion. Palpably resonating like the third world, the statistics give the impression that we are talking about Bihar, in India. Is the American Dream eroding?
If in America, a family must survive on $10 per day with unemployment benefit of $300 per month, then it is not surprising that in Bihar in India vendors sell garlic by pods. Bihar, touted as the bad example of poor governance, at least has seen a lot of progress lately. Déjà vu, vote is bought in Patna, the main city of Bihar. Money can buy power, position and votes. Ethics is also for sale. Sons of elected officials peddle with drugs, drive fancy cars, and buy off jail sentences and visit massage parlors. It is also a third world reality.
America, with its transformational foreign policy with 3 Ds – defense, diplomacy and development has managed to ship jobs overseas, taking the country to the cleaners. Meanwhile, Bihar is at least making some tangible progress. Even though Bihar lags behind in human and economic development, it is commendable that Bihar became renowned as the least corrupt State in India in 2011.
Misuse of money – ‘corruption’ pervasively legalized and legitimized is certainly one of the culprits of poor governance. Newspaper headlines in metro Atlanta reverberating sounds of scandals, corruption, massage parlors, schools cheating, land deals, water projects, and the jobless – the American Dream feels like it is eroding. When the economy is failing citizens, poverty gaps become prominent, and eyes are on governments and governance – both big and small.
The recent corruption charges of one of the Gwinnett County Commissioner, Shirley Lasseter is revealing on several fronts. In this particular case, the local authorities sought help from federal investigators. Lasseter pleaded guilty to accepting $36,500 in favor of her vote towards a zoning project. Subsequently, the involvement of her son and the nexus of illegal money, drugs and land deals all came into unfolding within the same scandal.
The murmurs beneath the surface are telling of a county rife with corruption which prompted concerned local authorities in seeking assistance from federal investigators. Upon suspicion, at the local level, corruption in smaller figures is much easier to contain and deal with. However, to act on suspicious activity requires political will from people with stake. As shown by Lasseter’s scandal, seeking collaborative programs during times of uncertainty, actually demonstrates results.
Whether Super PAC dollars or a smaller amount of bribe that tempts an elected official – the question remains, can money be used as powerful incentives in governing, creating policies and acting on behalf of the people? This is a sad and dichotomous reality of the U.S. political economy. On the one hand, this guiding of the moral economy is visible and permeates various levels of governing structure and system.
On the other hand, the rising level of poverty in America is frightening. Disparities are stark. ‘Perseverance’ is the new American Dream for citizens. The basic value construct of what America stands for – equality, rights, justice, fairness and opportunity, appear to be on transitory hold. Nevertheless, like Bihar, Georgia is also working on improving its corruption index and has a long way to go. Acting on reducing systematized rent-seeking purchasing power in governance will require political will, similarly to resurrecting the American Dream with policies that actually benefit people.
Will the big and small governments work together in rebuilding internal democracy? Will Obama offer an economic agenda that can get the country moving beyond the basic need economic survival mode to reshaping its moral political economy? We will cast the vote for hope.