Individualism vs. the Common Good
To the Editor:
In “The Collective Turn” (column, Jan. 22), David Brooks suggests the necessity of balancing decentralized government and individual initiative with the need for collective action. Here in suburban Dallas such sentiments would brand him a flaming socialist.
His call for more “streamlining” to liberate “private daring” seems to have forgotten much of recent American history. While the deregulation of the 1980s was in part necessary and successful, the stock market crash in 1929, the savings and loan scandals in the 1980s, and our recent Great Recession all suggest that our problems lie with too much deregulation and not enough collective action to guard against the abuse of private initiative. From a historical perspective, President Obama’s inaugural remarks struck just the right balance.
McKinney, Tex., Jan. 22, 2013
The writer is a professor of history at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
To the Editor:
David Brooks oversimplifies when he states that we have “one party that talks the language of government and one that talks the language of the market” but “no party with new ideas about how these things might blend together.”
The Democratic Party, in passing Obamacare, embraced the use of a marketplace of private insurance offerings to achieve a public good. Not coincidentally, that health care approach originated in conservative think tanks, but we should credit Democrats with being open to the idea and carrying it forward.
Rather than being a party of government versus markets, as Mr. Brooks implies, Democrats since Franklin D. Roosevelt have favored government providing frameworks within which markets can operate more fairly and safely.
Republicans, on the other hand, seem now to reject any blending of markets and government and retreat to an unvarnished advocacy of “free markets” that all too often favors entrenched moneyed interests over the public good.
THOMAS R. HITCHNER
Baltimore, Jan. 22, 2013
To the Editor:
David Brooks correctly emphasizes that “reinvigorating a mature nation” requires government simultaneously to centralize and to decentralize its responsibilities and functions. More regulation and more deregulation are required. Citizens need greater independence in their personal lives but also greater oversight to assure public safety. Public programs should encourage personal initiative while offering a safety net when individuals fail.
These competing values introduce severe tensions as collectivities mature, yet the most effective businesses and governments are capable of achieving stability and innovation jointly. Rather than arguing exclusively for one or the other, we should be working to achieve both. The importance of individual interests does not necessarily dictate less concern for the commonwealth.
As Mr. Brooks rightly concludes, at this stage in our national history, we will do better by embracing competing values.
Albany, Jan. 23, 2013
The writer is a professor of public administration and policy at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany, SUNY.
SOURCE: NY Times online, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/24/opinion/individualism-vs-the-common-good.html, retrieved January 24, 2013.