Now let’s tackle some social issues. A friend of mine who we’ll call Shauna is up next on our little “show” to talk to us about social causes. She is liberal rather by default. A very bright thirty year old woman who has nonetheless fallen adrift in terms of her life goals until the most recent year or so due a little thing I like to call gaming addiction and a bit of depression (they go hand in hand). She gets her information and forms her opinions based on a combination of a practical but rather emotional upbringing and a slew of new media (Facebook, The Daily Show, gaming clan conversations, etc).
Last time, I gave a little first-person insight into the mind of a hard-core progressive. On the subject of class distinctions and wealth distribution, the progressive honestly believes that the difficulty of the work should define the magnitude of the financial compensation, not the market demand…that the only institution capable of remaining impartial enough to make sound decisions about charitable endeavors is the government, and that the wealthy literally had to have achieved their high station through crooked or unfair means since those in their employ only see a tiny fraction of that wealth.
Now for a change of pace, let’s look at the more moderate face of liberalism. We’ll call guest #2 Claire. Claire grew up in a family with a mother who was a part of the movement to support the Equal Rights Amendment – a home with no cable television (but an antenna, which they used every week to watch mainly the mainstream network news programs and PBS). Her parents were loosely observant Catholics and very attentive to her education and her civility. She is well-mannered and level-headed on the whole, but certainly a product of the media and her liberal surroundings. Actually, apart from her generous nature, her defining virtue is her respect for others – especially authorities. I’m actually going to be merging several conversations here…I’ve had many discussions with her on various political issues, from private vs. public sector responsibilities to spirituality, but I think a few highlights will give you a good picture of the center-left Democrat.
CLAIRE: It’s funny to me…the Republicans used to be all about social justice – they led the abolitionist marches, they fought for woman’s suffrage, they were the first to establish the department of veteran’s affairs. So why didn’t they get on board with the civil rights movement? Why were they behind in the 60s and 70s? Why aren’t they feminists? What changed?
ME: Nothing changed. The Republicans were about social justice in the 1850s and they still are. Simply because they disagree with the methods employed by today’s left wing does not mean they aren’t fighting for fairness.
CLAIRE: (interrupting) But you can’t deny that it was the left pushing the equal rights amendment, the civil rights movement, the freedom of choice for women, an end to wage disparities…
ME: I think the key thing that caused the conservatives of this country to turn away from what is currently described in the media narrative as the front for social justice is the methods. Recall that in the 1950s, it was REPUBLICANS marching on Selma and Atlanta. It was REPUBLICANS being shot in the streets by DIXIECRAT officials. It was REPUBLICANS fighting against Jim Crow. Rosa Parks…was a REPUBLICAN. The right wing of our government shied away the moment the rhetoric became less about changing the system gradually through proper channels and more about forcing rapid, big-government solutions down our throats. We stepped away from the civil rights movement and did not back the equal rights amendment because such things were GIGANTIC overreaches on the part of the government. We disliked Affirmative Action because we didn’t think government had any right to counter racism with institutional racism of a different kind. We resisted the ERA because there were provisions in it that would require us to hand over too many of our rights. We fought abortion and birth control because we honestly believed those things would lead to a degradation of the status of women and an unleashing of all of the worst behavior in men…and we were RIGHT.
CLAIRE: That isn’t what you’ll hear in the South these days. They don’t talk about wanting equal rights for women and minorities but wanting to do it gradually and in ways that don’t trample on liberties…there is real hatred down there. There are towns where, if it was legal, they would still make blacks use a different water fountain or bathroom.
ME: Well, there, a funny thing happened after the Dixiecrats got shouted down by the progressive movement within the Democratic party. Southern racists and evangelicals who had always voted for democrats in the past had no party to turn to. They started voting for Republicans because the party that was resisting rapid change was the party that in their mind, was less despicable. So yes, the conservative movement nowadays has an element of old southern hatred. Ignoring it won’t do us any favors. But what the media has done to the rest of conservatism because of this fringe group (and all polling data suggests that racially bigoted attitudes are in the vast minority even in the southern states now) is inexcusable, and only explained by an evident desire to write a new progressive narrative and change history. I strongly urge you to read what was actually written by conservative intellectuals about the ERA or the civil rights movement or birth control or abortion.
(Claire was not convinced by polling data in re: Southern attitudes…I think she might have been more convinced if she’d been talking to someone from the South…or had ever been down there)
THE TEA PARTY vs. OCCUPY WALL STREET:
ME: I find myself sympathetic to the tea party on economic issues, although I think some of their goals are so far from attainable that it seems a little crazy to mainstream conservatives…which does our entire movement no go. I just think it’s shameful what the media has done to try to discredit them.
CLAIRE: I know the groups are different in different places, but they’re doing it to themselves. They dress up like Colonials and talk about revolution and say some rather hateful things when given the chance to gain the podium. I don’t for a second believe that our institutions are really so bad off that we need to hit the reset button, and I think it would catastrophic if we just cut funding in the sudden and painful way they want.
ME: Well let me ask you think? Does the media spend any time talking about the fringe loonies that show up at Occupy protests? Or do they try to paint the movement as spawning from reasonable frustration? Because they focused on the fringe loonies at the Tea Party rallies and portrayed them as anarchists, racists, rednecks…why are though no documentaries on the antisemitic, anti-American things that the nutter-butters at Zuccoti park are saying? And for that matter…if the media is so ready to draw parallels between OWS and the Tea Party, why is one treated with respect and the other with fear and loathing?
CLAIRE: There is coverage of the violence in Oakland, the riots in Detroit…it’s not all positive coverage of OWS.
ME: They will matter-of-factly report the news, because they are still required to do so…but what do they say when they report on the Oakland vandalism? Do they say “angry anarchists attacked the city today, costing the businesses there hundreds of thousands” or do they say “hundreds of out of work youth took to the streets today to protest the unfair conditions that led to their unemployment – dozens of arrests were made as the rioters did damage to a number of businesses in the region.” You have to train yourself to listen for the spin, because it’s in almost every broadcast, and it all seems to lean one way.
(at this point, she muttered something about not being so sure about that…)
ENVIRONMENTALISTS & THE CAUSE:
(following an appearance by Carl Safina on the Daily Show w/ John Stewart – for those who don’t know, Safina is a big wig with the Blue Ocean Institution and New York Sea Grant and is thus heavily tied to Stony Brook – my place of business)
ME: That was ridiculous. That appearance discredits Stony Brook and marine science in general. To get up there on National television and boil the whole Gulf oil disaster down to “Republican-backed deregulation of the oil industry is going to lead to more disasters like this” is despicable.
CLAIRE: Well he was definitely applying some spin…
ME: Some? Some spin? It was all spin.
CLAIRE: …but had some good points and it’s his job to raise awareness – we look to scientifically knowledgeable public policy experts to make recommendations and call attention to problems with current law. Unless you’re going to argue that better safety procedures and regulations wouldn’t have prevented this disaster.
ME: It is, believe it or not, possible to raise awareness without blatantly lying to millions of people. Nowhere did he mention that there are megatons of much less dangerous to acquire oil and natural gas that we aren’t allowed to drill for because of government – particularly EPA/DOE – OVER-regulation of energy policy. Conveniently, he leaves out that while we’re abiding by the laws in place, there are energy companies flying under pirate-style international flags avoiding regulations to get oil for China, applying pressure on us to dig deeper than we should to keep up. Sorry, but you can have good points and they’re worthless if you don’t tell the truth…and I mean the whole truth. Scientists have a responsibility to be objective, not to be advocates for a cause.
CLAIRE: I agree that in an ideal world, a scientist would be able to be completely free of advocacy…that his word on an impending problem would carry enough weight with those less informed about a given field that action would be taken. But we don’t live in that world. There is a threat just as grave from a scientist being too inactive to advocate a position as being overzealous. Agent Orange, for example, we originally conceived as a useful, completely peaceful herbicide for clearing land and became one of the ugliest chemical weapons in history and the scientist who invented it spent his whole life afterward regretting his mere existence.
ME: But Carl didn’t stop at telling us there was a problem. He reached way beyond his field of expertise and started making claims form his position of authority on marine conservation SCIENCE to talk about energy POLICY, about which he has no credentials at all that should give him that authority role. Carl Safina is no more an expert on regulatory policy than you or I. In fact, based on his one-sided rhetoric, someone like me might conclude that he knows jack-squat about energy policy or government regulation beyond what his buddies all say.
CLAIRE: Fair enough…I don’t think Safina is a bad guy…I think he cares deeply about raising the public profile of these issues and attention focused on them and sometimes he goes overboard in that regard. (you see…she appeals to authority here…she wants to see the good in people and that is admirable, but it blinds her to the danger of appealing to authority without question)
ME: The road to hell is paved with good intentions…Safina no doubt means well, but we can’t tolerate a man just because his intentions are good if what he’s actually doing is endangering the credibility of scientists…or worse…endangering the economy by making calls to authority he does not possess.
Incidentally…when the first climategate broke, her instinctual reaction was to note that we all have e-mails that, if read at face value, sound bad and to emphasize that even if there was some bad acting going on, it wasn’t the majority of the field. She trusts the authority of the literature too.
CAIN (on allegations of misconduct)
ME: Cain just doesn’t like the kind of guy to do what Ms. Bialek claims he did…and there is ample evidence to suggest that she’s lying or exaggerating her claims.
CLAIRE: Multiple claims have come forward though…usually when you get a cluster of reports, there’s something to it.
ME: If I see hard evidence to that fact, I’ll be the first to reject Cain, but a cluster of accustations is no more convincing than a single accusation to me…especially when most of them are anonymous or backed by lawyers with a political ax to grind. We don’t try and convict people without the removal of all reasonable doubt.
(Claire went on to suggest that although Bialek may have been exaggerating, there’s a good chance Cain was a bit too friendly with the ladies and some women didn’t know how to handle it properly).
PERRY (on his position on the death penalty and creationism)
CLAIRE: Oh God…you cannot like Perry. That would be a big problem for me. Based on what he’s said, he sounds very anti-science to me. Seemed to be suggesting that he believed in creationism in the literal sense of the word…that he didn’t buy into global warming theory at all, despite having no background in the science…and don’t even get me started on his record with capital punishment.
ME: I didn’t say I liked Perry…just mentioned that he seemed to be catching fire of late…I haven’t fully appraised him yet (this was a while back). But I must say that what he said about creationism doesn’t strike me as necessarily his denying evolution entirely…it sounds like he wanted to make a place in his campaign for people who believed either of those theories. Of course, I’d be pretty uncomfortable with a creationist President…but I prefer not to leap to conclusions. As for capital punishment, Perry had basically no discretion when it came to death row inmates and no authority to rewrite Texas law. Those he does seem rather proud of that record. I’m on the fence about capital punishment, and believe there are good times to use it (serial killers and the like), but he does seem a bit “Texas sized” with his ego on that front. And oh BTW, you know my position on global warming (I believe we’re having an effect too minor to require massive international economic decapitation over)…I think it’s a bit presumptuous to call someone “anti-science” just because they disagree with scientists on any particular issue.
CLAIRE: It would be one thing if he had an intelligent defense of any of his positions, but everything he says seems to lack any depth at all.
ME: It may well be that he’s just not a very adept communicator, which would be excellent grounds for avoiding him as a nominee…let’s hold off on the name-calling though until we know me, OK?
BACHMANN (regarding whether minor gaffes like incorrectly identifying in which state the battles of Lexington and Concord occurred)
CLAIRE: I’m sorry, but I don’t think Bachmann is qualified to be President…some of the things she’s said have really made her appear unprepared and historically limited. In (insert home town), we expect our leaders to have a firm command of U.S. History, World History, Philosophy, and Science…we want them to know their basic facts because if they don’t, what will make them qualified to govern us going forward.
ME: I agree that a President needs to have a CONCEPTUAL grasp of history. The exact location of the battles of Lexington and Concord is not a concept…it’s minutia. When you eliminate all people from the running for the office who are missing a few factoids from their history files, you’ll have no one left except history professors – most of whom will not know enough about what is CURRENTLY happening to govern wisely – especially on matters of science, economics and agriculture. This is how we end up with people like Obama in office…we eliminate people over silly things like where Lexington and Concord happened and are left with the smoothest talkers…not the people with the best current ideas.
CLAIRE: But that is such a CENTRAL factoid that it suggests that Bachmann doesn’t understand some of the basic conceptual foundations of the revolution. How can we trust that she has a complete enough historical foundation that her ideas will be well informed when she’s getting really basic things like that wrong?
ME: So…rather than analyze a candidate’s current ideas and decide whether they make sense to you…you’d rather assume that they can’t be good because their grasp of history is missing a few key factoids? What if I ran for President? Would I be unqualified to contribute simply because I didn’t know that Long Island was twice the size of Puerto Rico?
CLAIRE: Yes…sorry, but I would consider that a bad sign for you as a candidate. There are gaps in your knowledge of geography that could be pretty costly for you as the leader of the free world.
ME: Not that I’m arguing that I’d be a good President – I don’t think I have the people skills for that job – but I don’t think even our most effective Presidents ever had to make a decision that required intricate knowledge of precisely how wide Laos is. They have a swarming hive of advisers presenting them with alternatives and their judgment is what’s important…not their Jeopardy-style trivial knowledge.
CLAIRE: I don’t think either of us actually know what a President does on a typical day…but I do believe that the mistakes made during Vietnam and Iraq came down to a lack of so-called trivial knowledge about the geography, political ideologies and economic situation on the ground in Iraq and Vietnam. A better leadership could have averted cost and lives and netted a positive outcome if our Presidents had all of those facts.
(she did have a point here)
ME: Fair enough…I still think that given the choice between the person who is ideologically aimed toward something I believe will work and is a little short on trivial knowledge and the person who is a master of knowledge but is ideologically akin to Obama…I’ll go with the supposedly less qualified leader. Of course…Obama himself is often factless in his rhetorical narrative, especially when it comes to the private sector and how best to spur economic recovery…(at which point the subject veered off elsewhere…LOL)
This is how an outstanding person can be a liberal…they call to authority, worship academia (without realizing that this is what they’re doing) – and thus are pulled toward the liberal bias thereof, and grow up in a world narrated by the mainstream media almost exclusively, yielding only one real point of view as viable in their minds…they wind up seeing big business as something like a gang of individuals and government as the true authority on the economy. They trust scientists to be agenda-free and motivated by virtue but make no allowances for the possibility that those scientists might be tragically wrong or for the reality that most entrepreneurs intend nothing but the best as well. Basically…bias and agenda, in their eyes, doesn’t come from traditionally respected institutions (government, media, academia)…it comes from everywhere else.
If you believe that…you almost have to be in favor of bigger government and conservative ideas about more freedom and less regulation have to seem scary and inherently unfair despite the process being nominally fair.
Next time…we’ll talk to a social liberal on issues like gay rights and abortion and see how fairness gets defined in that arena.
My sister laid out a plank and I am now going to step out onto it and lay the next plank. She asserts that left-wingers ultimately think only of equality of results – I’d add that if this premise is correct, it also explains their singular emphasis on the individual’s rights, rather than on the impact an individual has on others (think abortion rights, their use of the commerce clause, and their use of their right to free speech), since a fair outcome depends on every adult individual being paramount – it depends on a selfish way of thinking.
But before I go too far into that, I think some insider perspective helps illuminate the minds of leftists. I’ve taken it upon myself to overcome some of my tendencies toward frustration and anger when debating a left winger, take deep breaths, try to stay calm, and debate them as though their intellectual positions were equal. I personally don’t think they are, but I believe in fairness too…I want to give my left wing friends a chance to make their core beliefs known without jumping down their throat even if what I hear frightens me.
I’ve had three such discussions with three different leftists in the last few weeks. I’ll alter their names to protect their identity (it’s only fair).
We’ll call our first guest Nina. She and I had a lengthy discussion about the necessity of government’s place in enforcing social responsibilities. I will simplify the structure of the discussion a bit since Nina has a tendency to ramble, repeat herself, and go off-topic on occasion when she’s in a hyper mood.
An important bit of info about Nina – she is a very hard-core progressive. Her mother is a force of nature who has indoctrinated her all her life with a select few sources of news and information and she is not yet mature enough, I believe, to challenge those theories and assertions, though I do see some signs of progress on that front. I feel it important to bring this up so that it is clear that our first guest is not a mainstream Democrat. Mainstream Democrats will get to talk shortly. Here, in a nutshell, is how my conversation on taxes, fat cats and corporate America went.
NINA: Did you know that there is an upper limit of $100,000 on the payroll tax…and if they eliminated that limit, social security would be completely paid for? It’s ridiculous that the cap is that low!
ME: Even if that were true, which I don’t believe it is (that eliminating the cap would solve SSA’s insolvency), the payroll tax doesn’t reach the personal wealth of most of America’s wealthiest people. Raising or eliminating that cap will primarily hurt middle-market investors, small business owners and the upper middle class.
NINA: You would have to eliminate that cap and then tax luxury and consumption as well, but the wealthiest in this country have to pay themselves somehow. I’ve heard stories about businessmen going out to dinner and spending 60 thousand dollars in one meal! Or 10 thousand on a shower curtain! That’s disgusting! I make 20 thousand in a year if I’m lucky! They shouldn’t get to spend three times my salary in one night and not contribute substantially to their social obligations!
ME: So you want to tax investment (through capital gains taxes), consumption (through luxury taxes), income (through a much more progressive income tax structure), payroll (with no limit on the amount of payroll that can be taxed), sales (through state sales taxes), property (especially large estates since you don’t want to eliminate the estate tax), luck (windfall taxes), energy (gas taxes, carbon taxes, etc)…what don’t you want to tax? And how can we stay productive that way?
NINA: I think that people like us who make a normal living don’t understand the concept of percentages. I hear all the time that the wealthiest X percent are paying some huge share of the tax burden, but they don’t get it. 50% of my pay being lost would kill me, but to them, it has no affect at all! They can afford to give up more without even noticing a difference!
ME: I think the problem with that position is that when you tax the wealthy because they can afford to be taxed, it reduces the amount they’re willing to spend on their businesses, their personal lifestyle and their properties. Let’s go back to your shower curtain example. I know you love the art world. Some artist crafted that fine shower curtain. If all of the wealthiest among us were taxed at the rates you’re proposing, do you think that artisan would find enough work to survive? What about that dinner? Someone grew the grapes for that $3,000 bottle of Pinot Grigiot, and someone sold cattle to become the $8,000 steak tar tar and someone is running the restaurant that caters to these kinds of upscale clients. And there some lucky waiters working at that restaurant who’ll get more in tips that night than many waitresses make in a month at Applebees. And the chef is being paid handsomely, which means he can afford to take his family to the Grand Canyon next winter! Do you see what I’m driving at?
NINA: But what percentage of all of that wealth being thrown around so grotesquely by the fat cat stock brokers and hedge fund managers is actually going to the artisan or the waiter? It may seem like a good thing to them, but they’re getting a PITTANCE of the wealth needed to enjoy that kind of opulent lifestyle. We should be supporting them, not bribing them with underpaid work.
ME: Now who doesn’t understand percentages? Who cares whether the profits from such transactions aren’t mostly going to the artisan? He has to make a living and the pittance he gets is probably enough to keep his family very happy! If the shower curtain cost $2,000 to make and he sells it for $4,000 to a decorator who then sells it to the rich guy for $10,000 since the middle-men always take a higher profit margin, then the artisan made $2,000 in one day (it would take me a month to make that)…and the middle man made $6,000 in one day…and the rich guy got what he wanted and paid a lot for it. And everyone was happy! That $2,000 made by the artisan is a pittance in ratio terms, but it pays his bills for weeks! And he gets to do this multiple times a year I’m sure. And what of the pittance paid to the maids and tutors and drivers and pilots and butlers and gardeners and landscapers and decorators who maintain the fat cat’s enormous mansions? How many people do you think Bill Gates employs OTHER THAN his corporation which employs hundreds of thousands worldwide? It turns out that Mr. Gates requires a personal staff some 600 people deep! Those are 600 people who have a job…who wouldn’t if it weren’t for Gates being a fat cat!
NINA: That staff would still be there even with more taxes…Gates isn’t going to stop living like a king just because doing so will be a larger percentage of his net wealth.
ME: Even if that were true – and the fact that you would think that is true demonstrates a lack of understanding, IMHO, of the way that the wealthy view their finances – but even if that were true…can you say the same for the guy making a million a year because he owns eight dry cleaners and has a little socked away in stocks and currency? Will a surtax on the wealthy leave him with enough to afford that tutor he wants for his kids? Or the twice-weekly lawn care visits to keep his grass green?
NINA: But the guy who runs the dry cleaners isn’t doing all the work of those dry cleaners…he just owns some pieces of paper and handles the actual workers! Why do the people cleaning people’s clothes make minimum wage and suffer while the owner lives well – and he’d still be living well even if he couldn’t afford a tutor! He didn’t work fifty times as hard as I did this year…why should he make fifty times what I do?
ME: Ah…now we’ve gotten to the real root of your unhappiness. You believe that compensation should be related to effort, not to demand and net value. Needless to say, I believe the opposite. The orange pickers in Florida make minimum wage because anyone who is reasonably fit can pick oranges. That job is easily replaced. That may sound rough, but we don’t pay the people running dry cleaners a lot because it doesn’t take a ton of unique skills to do that and because there is a large unskilled labor force that will gladly be paid that pittance to do the work. And no…that doesn’t mean the guy who owns the franchises is taking advantage of the poor…it means he’s paying them what they need and giving them work because his entrepreneurship has created the wealth to afford it. Like it or not, there are many people out there who don’t have much earning power because they simply don’t have the abilities needed. We aren’t all created with the same gifts.
NINA: The fact that we are born with unequal abilities only proves my basic point! There are those of us who are really in need of help from those of us who have the good fortune to be gifted with unequaled talents. I have no problem with everyone making different wages, but fifty times different? Or fifty THOUSAND times different? Shouldn’t we do what we can to give the less fortunate a fighting chance to be happy?
ME: Despite what the media says daily, the vast majority of people who do grunt work for a living ARE happy. The unemployed…not so much, and I agree that this is a major problem, though I think the solution is to empower businesses to hire more by making the tax code simpler and easier to predict and by removing unnecessary regulations that make it too expensive to operate a large corporation here. But don’t fall for the Marxist line that the factory worker is miserable under the weight of the fat cat who crawled over him to get his good station in life. Most construction workers love their jobs…love being part of building something that will last a long time…most factory workers find their joy in the other parts of their lives. Most pig farmers love their land. It takes privilege and idle time to become unhappy that someone higher up than you has a nicer car. Don’t believe me? You ask Mike Rove – he’s actually made a career of touring the country talking to unskilled and lightly-skilled laborers who do the jobs most of us wouldn’t want to do. As for wage disparities…I still think you’re missing the benefits of having very wealthy folks with enough resources to hire the rest of us…but I’d also ask you who is the arbiter or fairness? What is the limit of wealth a person can acquire and have it still be fair?
NINA: Well we have to do something! We can’t rely on big businesses to give to social causes – the government has to have a role there to make sure these people live up to their obligations.
ME: (after a moment and a deep breath to avoid barking back that she completely avoided answering my questions or addressing my points) OK…well I’ll tell you that a fiscal conservative tends to believe that charity must be voluntary to achieve full participation…that long before the advent of the current big-government spending regime, big corporations gave a larger percentage of their net worth to charity than they do now to taxes, and that even today, there are plenty of examples of the wealthiest among us giving of their worth voluntarily. I mentioned Bill Gates…
NINA: Stop…I know what you’re about to say. And yes…Gates is a bad example since he spends so much on AIDS research and African infrastructure projects, but for every Gates out there, there are a hundred Steve Jobs and Bill Koch types out there who never give significantly to charity. And when they fail to do it, it’s the government’s job to force them to be better people for all our sakes.
ME: (another deep breath) Alright…say we decide that government should force rich people to be upstanding citizens and give to charitable causes – why do progressives never like the idea of forcing them to give a certain percentage to CHARITY…rather than the government? That has been proposed many times and the left always balks. They seem to think that the government is a better arbiter of what’s a valid charity than people are. I don’t think you can force people to be better and I think it’s anti-American to try to do so by fiat, but let’s follow your contention to the logical conclusion. How do we decide what is a valid and just cause?
NINA: It would be one thing if the government were in charge of charities…or kept a list of the productive charitable organizations that could best help people, but there are things that less-organizes grass roots charities can’t do that only the government can. A charity can’t provide social security. A charity can’t take care of the mentally ill with medical aid and financial assistance.
ME: Even the staunchest conservative thinks we need to protect social security and provide avenues toward affordable health care and take care of the legitimately needy as best as we can. But many of us disagree with you that other government programs are more productive than private charity once was. But that isn’t even the key point. If you want people to see it as a joy to help others, you literally cannot force them to do so. If you take it upon yourself to decide what we all need, you’re going to make choices that some of us don’t agree with…and you’re going to actively discourage us from being better citizens. Most entrepreneurs don’t balk at paying more taxes because they just want to roll in money and see it go to no good end. They balk because they think government will spend their money stupidly and they want to have control over how it’s spent. And there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that they’re right! The shear number of redundancies, scandals, pork barrel spending projects and failed government grants and bailouts should tell you all you need to know about who knows more about how to handle money – the career capitalists or the government. Besides…if we let the government pick which charities are worthy and which are not and then force us to pay for their favorites…isn’t that rather like the Soviet system in spirit, if not in total substance?
NINA: I’m not saying the government should take ownership of the corporations..that would be the Communist system. I’m saying the government should take some ownership of the available wealth…enough to guarantee that those of us who are less fortunate have a fighting chance to move up in the world.
ME: Such a thing can never be guaranteed, no matter how much money you throw at it, if the government actively prevents the wealthiest of us from moving upward to. And I see essentially no philosophical difference between government ownership of a corporation and ownership of any share of the wealth. They both lead to the same thing…government deciding how corporations should behave, spending the wealth and drawing away resources from the pockets of the people who know better how to use those resources, and keeping the rest of us from being able to afford to start up a business ourselves (because the cost of doing business with the government on your shoulder is too high).
Obviously, neither of us was going to convince the other…but we gave it our best shot…and I think I fleshed out the mind of a true progressive quite nicely. They honestly believe that the mere possession of large wealth usually implies evil deeds were done to acquire it. They believe that business people know less about social needs than politicians. They trust only the government (because they hilariously see that entity as impartial) to make decisions in our best interest. And they are obsessed with equality of outcome, rather than process as my co-author suggested.
Later in this same conversation Nina admitted to knowledge of several ways she could/would use to cheat the system if she had to, saying that she didn’t care if it would hurt other people or be unfair because the system itself was unfair and deserved to be undermined so long as the wage gap was this large. I coldly rebuked the notion that morality should take a back seat to ideology and moved on…but it cost her a lot of my respect going forward, I must honestly say.
The next post will discuss a center-leftist’s take on the need for government run healthcare, artistic funds, transportation, and regulatory agencies, among other things.
“Fairness” appears to be Obama’s new buzzword for the 2012 campaign, but like “hope” and “change,” “fairness” is a word that no longer has a universal meaning:
- If you are a leftist – like Obama – you are focused on results. Have we achieved racial and gender parity in our hiring practices? How big is the gap in earnings between the rich and the poor? How is wealth distributed in our society? Is it being monopolized by a few at the top?
- If, on the other hand, you are conservative – like me or SABR Matt – you are focused on the process. A process-oriented perspective considers the left’s results-oriented questions to be basically meaningless. “Fairness,” according to this viewpoint, is not achieving sameness at the end of the great chain of causality; instead, it’s a matter of following a uniform set of rules and giving people what they are due based on their individual talents and hard work.
Now, contrary to popular left-wing belief, we conservatives do acknowledge that there is “unfairness” in our current system. We are simply focused on a different array of solutions. Consider Warren Buffet’s complaint that he pays less in taxes, percentage-wise, than his secretary. Granted, leftists tend to exaggerate the scope of that particular problem because it serves their purposes politically, but it is in fact the case that some wealthy individuals – and their attorneys – take advantage of our Byzantine tax code to avoid their personal tax burden. So if we stipulate that this is a problem, how do we solve it? Well, if you’re Obama, you just want to slap on a band-aid. If some rich people aren’t paying their “fair share,” says Obama, we should add a whole new tax they won’t be able to escape. We conservatives, meanwhile, see things differently. We believe that it is the complexity of the process that is generating the “unfairness,” and as such, we don’t support the addition of yet another tax. Instead, we believe in simplifying the tax code we already have. We believe in getting rid of the loopholes – which are more likely to be exploited by rich people and their aforementioned attorneys – and making the process of paying one’s taxes more predictable.
Every once in a while, you will see a superficial similarity between right and left — but the key word there is superficial. The left-wingers of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the right-wingers of the Tea Party movement both consider the Wall Street bailouts to be offensive, for example, but the reasons behind that opinion are completely different. As far as I can tell, the OWS protestors don’t like the Wall Street bailouts not because they find government handouts of that nature to be wrong in general, but because they went to rich people who work in an industry that supports the capitalist apparatus they personally abhor. Has any OWS protestor ever complained about the bailout money that went to General Motors? Has any OWS protestor ever complained about the money that was wasted on the now defunct Solyndra? The Tea Partiers, on the other hand, oppose government bailouts of any type because they make the process unfair. As soon as you allow the government to pick and choose winners and losers in our economy, government officials will immediately begin funneling cash to their political backers, and certain businesses will be rendered exempt from the brush clearing which sustains the free market (to harken back to SABR Matt’s forest fire metaphor). According to the Tea Party mindset, the Wall Street bailouts, the GM bailout, and the money that went to Solyndra are all of a piece. They are all rewards for Obama’s best buddies — and in the first two cases, they shielded certain corporations from pressures that would’ve forced beneficial changes.
The source of the differences between right and left boils down to anthropology. We conservatives believe that people are born inherently unequal, and as such, we don’t expect equal results. Instead, we believe our duty is to ensure that everyone can play whatever hand they are dealt in a system in which the rules are the same for everyone. We believe that a person’s ethnicity or social class matters less than the family unit – which, when properly functional, transmits the work ethic that makes success possible – and the talents of the person himself. A leftist, on the other hand, believes we are born blank slates. Leftists don’t acknowledge, for example, that there are biological differences between men and women that result, on average, in different aptitudes and different temperaments, and so they are always outraged whenever a particular industry fails to achieve gender parity. At the same time, the leftist viewpoint considers your social class and ethnicity to be large, central, and deterministic. If you are born a minority, then your only hope for success is a hand up from the government via affirmative action. If you are born white and affluent, any of your successes will henceforth be considered unmerited — merely the consequences of your good luck. Meanwhile, individual characteristics like industry, competence, and persistence tend to be de-emphasized.
Some people may accuse me of constructing a straw-man when it comes to the left, but I don’t think that’s the case. My reason? Leftist policy proposals would only make sense if, deep down, most leftists believed what I just outlined above. It makes sense to confiscate and redistribute wealth in the name of “fairness” only if that wealth is unearned. If, on the other hand, an individual’s native abilities and willingness to put his nose to the grindstone factor into his success, then it is fundamentally unjust to take his wealth and give it to others who may not be worthy of the largesse.
Make no mistake: There are many elements of the process of wealth creation that need to be made more fair. Most importantly, the practice of giving government subsidies and other special favors to pet industries needs to stop. But Obama and his supporters don’t really care about that kind of “fairness.” Oh, they may say they care, but their actions certainly belie their words. No — what the left really cares about is the sort of “fairness” in which certain members of an anointed class are handed the power to decide who “deserves” to be successful. And is this really what you want for America? If your answer is no, then you need to vote for Obama’s opponent in 2012.