Since the latest debacle of the manufactured debt crisis, once again there has been increased “talk” about the role of government in relation to the people. Increasingly, there have been increased disdain on the part of the extreme right for the involvement of government in the lives of the average person. Almost a nostalgic desire to return to those days of self sufficiency. Well, let’s look at those days of self-sufficiency? And when one looks at this it is important to look at the dates in which one describes. The right had the incredibly nagging ability to keep changing their criteria. Hence, I specifically would address that period from the late 1890s to about World War I America. First let’s talk about governing structure. Second, the lives of country and then industrial workers.

Government up until the late 1880s remained something aloof from the average person. The State government was far away and the local city government was run by the local machine. It does not matter what machine the democrats as well as the republicans had them. The local machines actually provided some services to their supporters. It was not all corruption, although a good deal was. They kept their workers employed. The Spoils System was in rampant use throughout the country since the Age of Jackson. However, the system had gotten beyond the control of the people. This is a time period when there was no such thing as the party primary. The party bosses controlled the nomination systems and elections. When one could vote, the ballot was printed by the party. When one went to vote, they were asked what ballot they wanted, democratic or republican, etc. In 1888, Massachusetts introduced the Australian Ballot, the secret ballot, from that point the state printed the ballot with all the names listed and the various party divisions. Progressives also introduced the Presidential Primary, whereby party members could vote in a primary to choose their presidential candidate, later it was extended to local offices. This Progressive reform diminished in some detail the power of the party bosses. However, it was not entirely diminished.

Now, the period between 1880-1913, there were a great many politicians who had a great deal of power within their parties, or influence as one might call it today. The party’s importance may be found in its control of the state legislatures and local politics. New York City Tammany Hall machine politicians had an inordinate amount of influence in Albany. This also plays into the choice for federal Senators. Remember, Senators were chosen by the state legislatures, who voted for a person recommended by their party. During the period in question, there also remained an increased amount of economic activity that was not regulated by the federal government. In fact, the federal government did little to get involved in the economic activity of the nation. This is why one can see the vast growth in monopolies from Railroads to Steel, to Meat Packing. These same monopolies could also count on support from the Senators they purchased in the states and at the federal level. In fact, the business of government was to keep government out of business. Even in the depths of the first Great Depression of 1893, the federal government did nothing to alter the private privilege of the economic dynamics of the day. Finally, in 1913, the 17th amendment came into effect and now, the people choose their Senators. The question remains do we want to go back to something like this????

Beginning with Theodore Roosevelt, a Progressive Republican, an oxymoron today, Roosevelt determined that the federal government needed to get involved within the economy so that the government was not held hostage to the demands of private business. Consequently, up to the early part of the twentieth century, government did not see its primary responsibility to get involved in the economic activities of the nation. Today this is a bit of a shock.

How did this affect the average person? We complain about government intervention for many reasons. However, beginning in the late 1880s and into the early twentieth century, the average person began to demand that the power of government refocus from its penchant for the rich and powerful to the average person. Farmers in the Midwest and South began early movements to organize for the demand of government attention and regulation. The whole idea of the Silver Sub-Treasury System was to enable farmers to pay their debts and provide for better lives. In the cities, organized labor for both women and men worked to get better wages and government reform for safer working and sanitary conditions, lest we forget the tragedies of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.

The point here, and there is one, is that government involvement in the lives of the average person began as a demand on the part of the average person to eliminate the privileged practices of business. Big business held all the cards. They controlled how much one made for a job, what the conditions were, and when one would be fired. Business also had the money and influence to allow government to look the other way. Let the private sector take care of these problems. The problem is that the private sector NEVER took care of the problem because it is not in its interest to do so. Conditions and wages only got better when the people decided that the federal government should use its power to end the privileges of the wealthy elite and start to work for the average person.

So where it this going???? The point my friends is that while there may be a good deal of things that, perhaps, the government should not do, the fact remains it DOES protect the average person from the prurient interests of business. From the amount of lead that is safe to put in your teeth fillings to the requirements that baby cribs should have certain safety standards, it is OUR government. The question remains do we as a nation want to give this up? Do we want to give up some of the social safety net standards that have been achieved. Things like unemployment insurance. You know that 6% deduction you pay, and your employer better pay, so that in the event you lose your job you do not suffer immediate economic ruin. And Social Security, a separate post to cover most of this will be necessary, nevertheless, this small sacrifice to allow old people to have some living in their waning years is something that the private sector would never be willing to fund. In fact, the private sector has no interest nor could it do what the government does regarding many of the social services that the average person obtains from the federal government. And we have earned them. The average person pays into all these programs so that their parents are not on the street because they were not fortunate enough to save the requisite money needed for their life threatening disease they caught.

So what should the role of government be???? Should we go back to the days when the privileged and rich controlled the strings? Or should we become more active and demand that government provide the needs of the people which it serves? This is the debate.

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