Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bizarro Santa - a touching Right-Wing belief in Fairy Tales

A commenter on the last post strikes a condescending and self-congratulatory note, and scolds me for "whining about the success others have achieved" while castigating those who bought homes they could not afford. Ah, yes - the 'Moral Hazard' argument, which applies only to the less-fortunate, but not at all to the too-big-to-fail banks and investment companies, who are now making more money than ever, courtesy of us, the American taxpayers - who, of course, get no such treatment from the recipients of our largesse, but, incredibly, refuse to help those who saved their bacon on the grounds that 'it would reward bad behavior!' Is that the "success" of which I'm supposed to be envious, and to which I am to aspire?

As usual, the Bizarro logic of conservatism rears its head, which leads me to the subject of this post. The most dearly-held beliefs of the conservative philosophy so often include belief in mythical creatures such as "The Invisible Hand of the Free Market", which they revere as if it were a scientific fact like gravity, or inscribed in red in the KJV Bible, instead of a misinterpreted and unsubstantiated economic theory, the implementation of which has brought us to our economic knees. Most of us, anyway. It's like they believe in a Bizarro Santa - one who does travel through a chimney and does have a bag of goodies, but instead of coming down the chimney and distributing the goodies, goes up the chimney with his bag crammed full of our stuff, and flies off to the North Pole with it.

My answer to lightnindan is as follows:

Wow - well done! You have managed to take every plutocratic talking point and tie them up together into a nice neat bow! You missed a couple, to be sure; don't forget about the Welfare Queens® and Lazy People Who Don't Want to Work but Want Other Hard-Working People to Support Them Instead™.

First of all, you start off with a fallacy that you take for a law of nature, like gravity: "You lower taxes to encourage people to engage in certain behavior."

Your smug and condescending attitude aside, this is not a fact. This is a theory. And, I may add, a theory that has not held up especially well. We HAD the 'lower taxes'. It's not like it hasn't been tried. Since 2000, this theory has had all the room it could use. And this is where we have ended up.

The word "taxes", BTW, is - in the context of which it has been used in our public discourse - merely a buzzword for 'taking money from me that I've earned and giving it to lazy people or the Gubmint'. What if your 'taxes' were eliminated, but you had to pay for roads, schools, infrastructure, public safety (police, firefighters), snail-mail (at what it actually costs to mail an object as opposed to what government subsidy of the post office allows us to pay), the legal and justice system (which affords you contract protection, among a host of other things) etc. - all the things that we take for granted that the government manages in our behalf?

You act like every penny you 'earn' came directly out of your ass, instead of the fact that it costs a LOT of money to put together a societal infrastructure where people can do business in the secure knowledge that there is a system of laws to protect you contractually, and a physical and communication infrastructure to support your ability to conduct business with other entities. Also, a public education system insures that you will have educated people to employ, and improve the country. Whether or not you have children has nothing to do with whether as a nation we should support public education and whether you as an individual should pay your fair share of it. Public education, and the GI Bill which allowed returning soldiers to go college, is what allowed us to be intellectual and scientific leaders in the world in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Now, we are falling sadly behind other nations who DO invest in their citizen's education.

But instead, your attitude is like that of a four-year-old who wants to sell lemonade on the sidewalk, so his mama spends money to make the lemonade, gives him a table and a chair to sit in, gives him the pitcher and the cups, and helps him draw a sign that says "Lemonade 5¢", and then proudly claims that "I did it all myself!" It is a childish, simplistic and ultimately unrealistic view of economics.

Also, nothing in what you wrote addressed anything I actually wrote about; you merely trotted out the same tired talking points and sad little 'I got mine' boasting and finger-pointing. Same with the 'Big Bad Government' stuff. Child, please.

Yes, there are individuals who overspent, and overbought, just like there are welfare queens and lazy freeloaders, but they are not anywhere near in the majority, nor are they the reason that the economy collapsed. They are the tokens that the banksters, nultinational corporations and Wall Street would like you to believe are the real problem - like a sleazy magician, misdirecting and pointing in any direction as long as it's away from themselves.

Let's break this down in real terms.

When the cost of living rises, and wages do not, what happens?

One has two choices - work more, and spend less.

This is what most of America has done since 1980.

But, eventually you get to where there are simply no more hours that one can work. And you get to where there are no more corners that you can cut, and the belt will not tighten any more.

Every year, we have been told through our wages that our work is worth less than it was the year before. Yet, productivity has increased - without wages following suit.

This is not conjecture; this is fact. Wages have been stagnant since 1980. And corporations and businesses WILL NOT raise wages unless they are compelled to. This, by the way, is not a criticism of corporations. Why should they? Their one and only directive is profit, and if they reduce their profit by paying more out in wages than they are compelled to, they are breaking their contract with their shareholders. They have to do what they were made expressly to do. They are legally and contractually bound to maximize their profit. This does not make them inherently bad; this is why they need to be regulated more firmly so as not to injure people.

This, by the way, is why they should not be considered legal people. Their aims, interests and needs are different than the aims, interests and needs of human beings.

So how are wages kept commensurate with prices? Through the pressure of collective bargaining. This is the only way to insure that there is enough power on the opposite side of the table to keep things equitable and balance. It is not to be expected that a corporation which depends on quarterly profits is going to voluntarily reduce those profits for something that will not directly and immediately benefit it. There has to be a standard held on what labor costs, because these are human beings who need to eat, breathe, and live, not inanimate objects.

But it is the people running these corporations, banks and investment firms who are profiting in the most grotesque way imaginable. As much as conservatives like to howl about 'redistributing wealth' - it's the most nefarious Communism if that redistribution goes from the top to the bottom (which it never does - the merest mention of the idea is enough to send them into a tizzy) they have no problem with 'redistributing' wealth from the bottom to the top, and that is what has happened.

So, go on and live in your self-congratulatory kindergarten fantasy world. It's too bad you can't see that the Santa you believe in is Bizarro Santa - going UP the chimney - with all your stuff in his bag.

Or, as the Big Red Man says - Ho. Ho. Ho.


Mauigirl said...

Excellent post - you make all the points that need to be made! Sadly, despite your logic, you probably can't change the mind of a dyed-in-the-wool"conservative" who has been brainwashed.

Alicia Morgan said...

You're right, mauigirl - that's why I 'preach to the choir', and why I don't bother commenting on right-wing blogs But if a conservative comes around here and wants to take exception with me, I will answer. There may be a progressive reading here who can use the discussion to add to their own argument.

surfbenet said...

Interesting in that I just used that phrase just before I found the link to your writing only I said "It's more like art to please the choir. [and with that phrase I always think of the Matisse Chapel of the Rosary]" in reference to a bumper-sticker I posted over at the beer party. For those that take exception I have noted a trend and I will quote myself again; "What I'm getting lately is the Republican Chuckle. When confronted with a truth of some kind... they just Chuckle. The facts don't go in, because there is no IN for the facts to go into."

lightnindan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lightnindan said...

Ok, apparently I lost a post trying to put it onto your blog, because when I sent a message asking if you had received it, it posted immediately. Oh well, I'll try again.

First, maybe you misunderstood my point. It is a fact that we lower taxes on some things in order to influence people's behavior. Whether or not people change is irrelevant to that fact. For instance, there is currently lower taxation for those who purchase certain vehicles or energy efficient appliances, and there are lower taxes on investment for the same reason.
I never advocated for the elimination of the government's power to tax. You've built somewhat of a straw man on that one, and based on that straw man, have created out of whole cloth, a character for me. (currently an employee for a large corporation that pays pretty darn good after 10 years of success and failure in business on my own; a father of six children who at times has wondered where I'd get the money to put food on the table; a man who has given to those in need when I had it to give and has taken charity when I didn't) I well know the government's role in what I do for a living, and my argument didn't address infrastructure or schools.
I stand by my argument, though, that we as a nation have overspent. Not just a few bucktoothed, hillbilly conservatives chugging 'shine in the backwoods of West Virginia, I'm speaking of a large portion of our population and many of our local and state governments along with the feds. The first lesson we, as a country, need to learn is to live on less than what we make. That, then, of course begs the question you posed. When the cost of living rises and wages do not, what happens? The solution I follow sidesteps the false dichotomy you propose. Work more or spend less? I say neither, find a way to earn more in less time. Novel I know, but it has been one of the secrets to the prosperity of our country. Heck, it's been known to increase the prosperity of some hillbillies with a good recipe for 'shine. I'm thinking more of legal means, though.
If "those guys" are paying less than you feel you deserve, become one of those guys and pay what you feel your help deserves. If the corporations are breaking laws to make their profits, apparently what is needed is not new regulation but government officials with the stones to prosecute them. Otherwise, if they have found a way to profit, and people who are willing to work for them, I suppose they should enjoy their profits.
That said, I think you'll find that some of the best run and most profitable businesses are ones that pay their employees well, and didn't need collective bargaining to make them do it.
Still trying to figure out where you found self congratulatory smugness in my reply. My (modest) 401k was not mentioned as an "in your face", but as an indication that when people invest and don't panic, their money will more than likely increase despite hard times.
Funny thing is, you seem to be one who has made a way for yourself in several industries that have alarming rates of failure and penurious wages. You are the perfect example of my argument. If more hours and less spending don't work, make yourself successful in a different way instead of wasting away at a low paying job.
I really have enjoyed the dialog. I spottily blog, due to my odd work schedule at:

Bukko Boomeranger said...

If "those guys" are paying less than you feel you deserve, become one of those guys and pay what you feel your help deserves.

Yeaaaaaah, I'll just become Microsoft, or Hospital Corporation of America, or Goldman Sachs... Another repetition of the "pull yourselves up by your own bootstraps" argument.

Forget the fact that it's almost impossible to do that in patent-protected, corporate-thieving, kill-the-competition America. Most people don't want to be a full-time workdrone. For the majority, work is something we do to get by, not the central focus of our life. And we'd like to be paid decently to do it, including a share of the profits our productivity brings the corpos.

Funny thing is, you seem to be one who has made a way for yourself in several industries that have alarming rates of failure and penurious wages.

Alicia, you're a musician and writer, eh? Doing things that you love, not just toiling for the money. Good onya for taking that path, rather than selling out.

I enjoyed my former career as a newspaper reporter, but when unemployment forced me to bail out of my former profession and bootstrap myself as a nurse, I did it for the money. It's been gainful, and even allowed me to immigrate to different countries when my wife and I decided to flee the reign of the Bush Crime Family. But to me, hospital work is like a factory job.

I go to work at the sickpeople factory, bust my back to keep my sickpeople machines operating as well as possible, then clock out and go home. No love of labour there, just duty. I wish I was doing something that fulfilled me, but living in Australia taught me that one's job should not be one's life. It's one of the most unAmerican things about the Aussies.

Most Yanks will never glom the Aussie concept of "work-life balance." They can't afford to, because in America, if you don't work, you can just go get sick and die. It's a shame you don't live in Oz, or even Canada. You wouldn't be making huge money -- artists are starving everywhere -- but you wouldn't have to worry about sickness and death.

That's because other countries care about the lives of their citizens. They'll keep them from dying of curable diseases even if they're not rich. And they do that by redistributing society's wealth through taxes. Anathema to "conservatives" who, as you point out, are like children wailing "I don't want to share my toys!" Many other English-speaking societies are not so stingy. They realize their citizens are all in it together.

Lightnindan is on the verge of getting the bootstrap society he wants. His Blogger profile says he's a truck driver, which already means he has to lick the boots of the people he begs to give him jobs. Remember your own advice when "free enterprizers" engage in wage arbitrage pitting you against Mexican truckers, Lightnin'. Your "freedom" will be slavery. Orwell was right.

Good luck in the America that's coming, Alicia. I'm glad I got out. It wasn't worth hanging around to fight for, and there's no point in trying to battle a tsunami of greedystupid anyway.

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