Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

This #GivingTuesday, whatever is your first priority, your second priority has to be independent media.

2021 has been one of the most dangerous and difficult years for independent journalism that we’ve ever seen. Our democracy is facing existential threats including the climate emergency, vaccine apartheid amid deadly pandemic, a global crisis for biodiversity, reproductive freedoms under assault, rising authoritarianism worldwide, and corporate-funded corruption of democracy that run beneath all of this. Giving Tuesday is a critical opportunity to make sure our journalism remains funded so that we can stay focused on all your priority issues. Please contribute today to keep Common Dreams alive and growing.

Please Help This #GivingTuesday -- Though our content is free to all, less than 1% of our readers give. We’re counting on you. Please help Common Dreams end the year strong.

March of Folly: The Debate We’re Not Having and What it Costs Us

John Atcheson

There are times when the march of history is marked by fundamental choices that shape forever what follows. 

This nation – indeed the world – is in such a time. Two clear and stark choices face us.  At issue are two competing perspectives about: 1) what we do about a stagnant economy; and 2) how we deal with global warming.  More broadly, we face competing views about the role of government in society.

One perspective -- the prevailing viewpoint these days -- is the conservative ideology.  This notion sees government as “the problem” and the free and unfettered market as the solution.  When it comes to global warming … well … it just doesn’t see at all.  It’s in the business of manufacturing denial.

We have seen the fruits of this belief system. The conservative economic approach  has dominated US politics three times now.  First in the late 19th Century, again in the 1920’s, and finally, for the last 30 years. In each case it led to extreme income inequality, and this in turn caused the three biggest economic crises in out nation's history.   In each case poverty and want increased. Bottom line: we have clear empirical evidence that this economic philosophy is self-limiting and destructive.  It is lemming-like in its inevitable rush to the cliff.

The fruits of the conservative’s denial of global warming are also evident.  Each decade of denial adds to the costs of energy and the costs of mitigating global warming; fosters heat waves, draughts, floods and fires; and brings us closer to irrevocable global catastrophe.

The other alternative is the progressive perspective which believes that government has a role in how we run our economy, and believes that global warming is real, and solvable with the right energy policies.  In fact, progressives advocate government investment in clean energy infrastructure as a means of creating jobs and prosperity while cutting emissions of greenhouse gasses.

We have seen this in action, too.  The New Deal rescued us from the vagaries of the market uber-alles policies that destroyed the economy in the 1920’s and launched more than 30 years of broadly shared prosperity.  More recently, a too-small stimulus program saved some jobs after the Great Recession of 2008. But since Reagan, we’ve been removing regulations such as Glass-Steagall, and that shared prosperity is morphing into exploitation of the vast majority of Americans by the wealthy few. 

So here we are:  in the midst of a crippling economic stagnation, and facing a tipping point at which global warming becomes irreversible and catastrophic.

All available evidence suggests that the conservative economic  approach hasn’t worked in the past and won’t now. 

On the other hand, we know that economic stimulus measures have worked in the past and worked again in 2009-2010.  We know that government has been a partner in prosperity, building supporting infrastructure, conducting groundbreaking R&D, assuring a level playing field, and assuring that wealth doesn’t get so concentrated at the top that our economy stalls as it always has when this happens. 

We know we could cut greenhouse gasses at a very low cost and create jobs in the bargain.  In fact, clean energy investments could have a positive return for the US and taxpayers – unless of course you’re an oil company. 

But as the election approaches, we aren’t talking about these twin monumental  challenges we face, or the alternative philosophies about governance that should be competing for our votes.

No.  We’re talking about: Gay marriage.  Chick-a-File. Repealing health care, who made the latest gaffe ...

In short, we are not having the most important debate facing this country since the Great Depression – perhaps since the civil war.

We’re not having it because the corporations and rich people who run this country have used the conservative philosophy to discredit government and snatch control of the media and the election process.  We’re not having it, because if we had a debate on the merits, conservatism would lose.  We’re not having it because there is no advocate for the progressive policies that have a proven track record.

Historian Barabara Tuchman described four cases where governments knowingly pursued policies contrary to their own interests, even when they knew of feasible alternatives.  She called these Marches of Folly.  

The four she outlined shaped the future in fundamental ways, but none holds a candle to the March of Folly we are now engaged in.  We are ignoring global warming, embracing solutions to our economic plight we know won’t work, and avoiding championing those that would.

In the end, we get the government we deserve.  If we’re willing to put up with ads that lie, Birther nonsense, chicka-filet non-news, blame games and gaffe-of-the-day, then we will waltz into the mother of all Marches of Folly, and our future will be forever impoverished.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a California car accident in January 2020.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Progressives Decry US Gun Control Failures After 'Truly Sickening' Michigan School Shooting

"A 15-year-old shooter may have picked up the weapon, but Congress—through its inaction on gun violence—may as well have handed it to him."

Brett Wilkins ·

New Climate Study Predicting More Rain Than Snow in the Arctic 'Rings Alarm Bells'

"There are huge ramifications of these changes," said the lead researcher, "all of which have implications on wildlife populations and human livelihoods."

Jessica Corbett ·

Durbin Introduces Amendment to End 'Legacy of Cruelty' by Closing Guantánamo

"It's time at long last to face reality and... close the detention facility at Guantánamo. Let's put this dark chapter behind us once and for all."

Brett Wilkins ·

With SCOTUS Set to Hear Abortion Case, Anti-Choice Groups Prepare to Enact 'Post-Roe Strategy'

Right-wing groups are lobbying lawmakers to pass state-level restrictions and ban sales of abortion pills, should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

Julia Conley ·

As Executives Hike Prices, US Corporations Rake in Biggest Profits Since 1950

"Prices are high," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, "because corporations are raising them—so they can keep paying themselves with ever-larger executive bonuses and stock buybacks."

Jake Johnson ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo