(This appeared on a Facebook thread following a post about real patriots being willing to pay taxes to support valuable social services.)
DK: It’s Interesting that a significant majority of folks who have served in the armed forces favor Romney. They do know how to make sacrifices. My bias favors those leaders who have actual experience in managing a business. Nice to have a Harvard law degree, but having a Harvard MBA too is a good base to build on. Romney proved himself as a businessman and created a fortune. But “liberals” today tend to demonize those who are successful (the evil 1%). That kind of thinking will obviously do lots to promote business creation and the needed risk taking and hard work. Romney’s success rate in turning around failing companies was about 80%. We’ll be hearing lots about the 20%. All politicians pander to their base, as you well know. The 50% of us who actually pay federal income taxes are patriots and are happy to pay those taxes. I know I’m happy to do so and frankly I’m simply amused by those who pay nothing and then have the gall to say that I don’t pay my fair share. It’s so weird.There are crazy elements on both the right and left. Some would say that liberal spendthrifts are going to bankrupt our country. Government spending is not all that different than personal finance. You have to set priorities. That is being responsible, not crazy. Most people in this country are hard working, caring people. Let’s try to get along!
SH: Actually, managing a business and managing a government involve very different skill sets, because: 1) the former allows for a far more authoritarian approach while the latter requires more ability as a mediator and facilitator, and 2) the former is driven by a single goal (maximizing the profit margin) while the latter serves a complex matrix of goals in service to maximizing the well-being of a populace.
I don’t “demonize” the 1%. I’d be happy to be among them; there are a lot of things I’d like to do with such money (esp. financing the social movement of my dreams, that I’ve outlined on my blog). I critique the system that produces such an excessive and growing concentration of wealth, and do so for two reasons: 1) It isn’t within a context of widespread prosperity, and so indicates a systemic failure to distribute the wealth produced with some modicum of equitability (and given that we have the most inequitable distribution of wealth of any developed nation on Earth, and the highest poverty rates accompanied by a plethora of associated ills, it clearly is not a necessary and unresolvable condition in a modern, successful, capitalist economy). And 2) It actually harms the economy as a whole, DIMINISHES AGGREGATE WEALTH, and WEAKENS THE ECONOMIC ENGINE.
The fact that all other developed nations have far less economic inequality than we do definitively debunks the notion that addressing socioeconomic inequality undermines economic prosperity. AS AN EMPIRICAL FACT (something people need to pay more attention to), those countries that DO pay attention to the issue of the distribution of wealth have LESS poverty, more generalized prosperity, and lower rates of all of the associated ills (e.g, violent crime, homelessness, malnutrition, etc.). As I outlined in my straight-forward “A Framework for Public Discourse” that I wrote in response to you, David, and that you never replied to, there is no a priori economic reason why we have to assume that any social problem is off-limits for us to contemplate and look for ways to solve, always doing so with attention to all relevant factors and implications. Economics is not the science of excusing inaction because it is presumed that doing so will decrease the production of aggregate wealth, as you use it, but rather is the science of figuring out how to balance a variety of interrelated and sometimes competing concerns to maximize human welfare, as people more concerned with humanity and less concerned with rationalizing inequality use it.
(Did you see the wonderful quote by John Kenneth Galbraith, by the way? “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy: That is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” That sums up my above point beautifully.)
And it is clear, both historically and in economic theory, that excessive concentration of wealth diminishes the robustness of an economy in its entirety. This is because it creates a sub-optimal balance of capital investment and consumer spending, and is well illustrated historically by the fact that the two most catastrophic economic collapses in America of the last 100 years were immediately preceded by the two greatest concentrations in wealth in America in the last 100 years, in 1929 and 2008 respectively, which in turn were preceded by a decade or more of small government, pro-business, deregulatory policies. Your entire edifice, David, is counterfactual and contradicted by well-established economic theory.
As for military personnel favoring Romney, those who pursue military careers have long tended toward conservatism (though far less universally than some suppose), and the fact that they do so today is neither new nor interesting. Those individuals, in fact, are part of the inspiration for the above post, since they tend to be among those who insist that patriotism requires that it take their preferred form. This was a response to that notion. As a former U.S. Army infantryman myself, I have no compunction about criticizing our militaristic emphasis in America (nor should anyone, whether they’ve served or not). We haven’t yet struck the right balance between “supporting our soldiers” and “criticizing how we use them and how we culturally contextualize the use of them.” Vietnam was an object lesson in the horrible error of vilifying those who are also victims of our overzealous militarism, the soldiers themselves. But it has become excessively taboo to say “I oppose the glorification of warfare, and the glorification of inflicting enormous damage on enormous numbers of other human beings, in the name of patriotism, with the flag waving and stirring songs echoing in our hardened hearts.”
Something that absolutely appalls me is that, when we discuss the pros and cons of any particular military action, the issue of how it will affect the innocent civilians on the other end is almost off the radar. When we debated the costs and benefits of the Iraq war, what you heard least (barely at all, really) was “we are killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians every year, and maiming and leaving homeless tens of thousands more.” That failure, that omission, is not patriotic, and I am tired of it passing for patriotism. It is a sign of a hegemon that has become so self-absorbed and self-serving in the utilization of its rather awesome power that it has earned the enmity that much of the world feels for it, and should take to heart the lesson that should teach.
That’s the whole point: Should “patriotism” be defined by our willingness and ability to inflict massive suffering on others, or on our willingness and ability to create more well-being among the members of our own society (at the very least)? I say the latter. Conservatives, apparently, insist on the former.
Don’t use the word “gall” with me when we talk about “fairness.” In terms of the distribution of wealth and opportunity, we are the least fair of all developed nations. Repeat that to yourself a few hundred times, because you’re having a great deal of trouble grasping it: Every other developed country on Earth does a better job than we do of extending the fruits of prosperity to a larger portion of their citizenry. That matters. That’s relevant. And that’s because they, unlike you, understand that we are societies, not just random collections of mutually indifferent human beings. Your wealth (as Ben Franklin himself emphasized) belongs to the public as much as it belongs to you, because it is produced through a partnership in which your efforts and skills are facilitated by a social institutional framework in which we all are invested and to which we all belong.
You call it “gall” to consider equality of opportunity a legitimate issue of concern, and then insist that we should all “try to get along”? You talk about “liberal spendthrifts bankrupting our country” when 80% of American economists favor Democratic over Republican economic policies, and the free-market advocate Economist magazine called your economic arguments “economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical”? Give me a break, David! From the point of view of the discipline of economics, on the basis of the empirical evidence, it is this excessive concentration of wealth which is bankrupting the country, not “liberal spending” (especially since our national debt has grown more under Republican than Democratic administrations, due to that same conservative eagerness to kill other people at great cost to ourselves and our economy)! As an EMPIRICAL FACT, the two most catastrophic economic collapses of the past 100 years were immediately preceded by the two greatest concentrations of wealth in the last 100 years, both of which followed a decade or more of small-government, deregulatory conservative policies. This isn’t JUST about what’s fair and humane, it’s ALSO about what’s necessary to the health of the economy as a whole!
I DO believe in fiscal responsibility, but fiscal responsibility is not best achieved by pursuing draconian cuts in a slew of extremely marginal (in a budgetary sense) social welfare policies and programs. There are really only two social welfare programs that are substantial budget items: Social Security and Medicare. And, yes, I’m in favor of reducing their budgets, in two ways: Raising the retirement age, and means testing both of them. Problem solved (especially if we stop spending far larger amounts of money beating the world into submission).
You want to keep doing contortions to find ever-more satisfying moral justifications for rank selfishness, you go for it my friend. And I won’t hesitate to shame you for it in return, because it IS a shameful attitude, and one that I will not legitimate with any degree of acceptance, even if, after a series of insulting and disingenuous statements, dedicated to perpetuating the suffering of my fellow citizens in service to continuing to tank our economy, you close by saying “let’s all get along.”
(If you really want to get along, actually listen to opposing arguments, consider their merits, look at the evidence, and realize that you, as well as those you are talking with, are going to have to compromise, particularly when the evidence is resoundingly against you. Merely attributing mainstream liberal positions to “extremists,” which you graciously indicate are complemented by far-right extremist positions that you don’t hold, followed by “let’s all get along,” isn’t enough.)
(A continuation of this exchange can be found in A Response to a Conservative on Personal and Collective Responsibility, Reason, Bias, Discourse & Humanity.)