Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What I Believe

In a nutshell we are faced with the following:

1) You mistrust government more than you mistrust large corporations.

2) You mistrust large corporations more than you mistrust government.


Conservatives usually lean to the former; liberals the latter.

It isn’t that I haven’t met any good and decent conservatives; indeed I have. The good and decent ones care about playing fair, good values and their families. But they believe in a fallacy. The fallacy is that unbridled capitalism, free from government regulation will yield a higher standard of living for more people than government regulated capitalism. They point to mismanaged, wasteful government programs as evidence that supports their beliefs. They miscast liberals as being naive and ignorant, who think of the government as a benevolent parent caring for her citizens.

Conservatives also believe that high taxes on the rich are punitive. They use words like “socialism” and “communism.” They think that liberals want to rob from the hard-working entrepreneurial rich people, and give their money to lazy poor people who want to be rich but are unwilling to work for it.

I can’t speak for all liberals, but that isn’t what I believe at all.

I think that governments are corrupt. I think that corrupt people are attracted by political positions, and that oftentimes those corrupt individuals prosper as a result of their political positions. I am as sure of this as I am of the fact that if I place my hand in a pot of boiling water it will hurt and I will suffer burns.

The thing is, I believe that the statements above are also true if we substitute the words “corporations” for government and “corporate” for political, only to an even greater degree.

It isn’t that I trust government to do the right thing. I absolutely don't. It is that I trust powerful corporations to do the right thing even less. Why? Because in a Constitutional Republic, the government is accountable to the people, and politicians can be voted out of office.

A conservative will invariably argue, “Corporations are accountable to the people in the free market. When they misbehave, the consumer will spend their dollars elsewhere. The market takes care of itself.”

And there in lies the rub. This is only true if the corporations are regulated by the government and forced to play fair. When corporations are free from regulations, you get powerful monopolies, price-fixing, workers being stripped of their rights. One only needs to explore how Amercian corporations conduct themselves in third-world nations to confirm these words.

First, I'd like to say a few words about taxes.

Taxes are not charity. They are like rent. You rent the protections of your government. The idea of the progressive tax system is simple really. Never mind that poor people don't have any money so they can't pay as much as wealthy people. That is academic.

The progressive tax system presumes that the richest people have more to lose and more to protect than poor people. They need the police, the military, the roads and all the services of government to a greater degree than the rest of us. Who would have to most to lose to the Communists or the Theocratic Muslims if they invaded the USA and there was no military to protect us? A poor person living in a slum or Dick Cheney? This is the justification, but there is more to it.

The concept of “money” is meaningless in a vacuum. Without a society, money is worthless. Wealth is a relative thing. The society that enables the power of the wealthy comprises everyone, not just the rich. It isn't a moral obligation for wealth to be taxed. It is a necessity to fund the society that enables the wealth to have meaning.

I suppose we could go back to feudalism, where rich people have serfs, castles, moats and their own armies to protect their wealth.

This concept that the progressive tax system is "unfair" to the wealthy is nothing more than an excuse and a justification for greed. I admit that the US government is problematic. One can point to waste and corruption pretty easily. The issue is, what is the alternative to the government regulating business and taxing its citizens? It is fine to say "the government is doing a bad job" but the alternative of an unregulated "Free Market" somehow being better is a fantasy.

Without government controls, the rich will act on its own behalf. They will make the rules by themselves, that will benefit them, that will increase their wealth and power. Does anyone believe most corporations would be benevolent without laws?

This idea that the Free Market will correct itself is a myth, nothing more. Imagine a country where there was no government regulations on pollution. [Not a big stretch under this administration!] Imagine two manufacturing corporations: One benevolent, the other, ruthless. The ruthless one dumps toxic waste on the outskirts of the poorest neighborhood, and then denies they are doing it. The media, also corporate owned with profit as their motive, have no reason (and may not be able to) report otherwise. The benevolent one spends the extra money to dispose of the toxic waste safely. The ruthless ones will be able to sell their goods for less money, and will make more profit. Their stock prices will be higher.

Now, the conservatives who believe in the unregulated Free Market argue that over time, the consumer will begin to buy from the benevolent corporation and the ruthless one will be forced to play fair. Let's all pretend that we actually believe in fairytales and the above is true. What about the people who are poisoned in the meantime? Their tough luck for being poor? The truth is, most people would never connect that the ruthless company is destroying the environment and killing people, because they are too busy just trying to make ends meet. They will buy the cheaper goods and the benevolent company will have to either go out of business or behave like the ruthless one.

One of the things that the conservatives do is debate an issue in simple, unrealistic terms. "Abortion is bad. Women shouldn't get them." "Government is corrupt. Get them off the backs of big business."

A liberal, such as myself argues like this: "Abortion is bad, but what happens when we make it illegal? Will the problem just go away? Will women who are not in a situation where they can raise a child no longer risk an unwanted pregnancy by abstaining? Is this realistic? What will happen to women who find themselves in dire straits with an unwanted pregnancy? Will she have the baby and find a way to raise it? Will she give it up for adoption? If she is poor and has no access to good healthcare, what will happen then? If she keeps the baby, how will she work and make enough money to provide for her? " These are tough questions. The best answers I get from pro-life people are "Well, she should have thought of that before she got pregnant!" Agreed, but still, there she is. When I say I am pro-choice, it isn't because I think "Abortion is good." I think abortion is bad, but I think that the alternative of making it illegal would be even worse.

The same goes for giving power to the government to regulate businesses. It isn't an elegant and perfect solution, and lends itself to corruption. But in the absence of this, the alternative is out of control corporations, abusing their workforce, the environment and the consumer.

And that is what I believe.

16 Comments:

Blogger Soundsurfr said...

Soundsurfr Response: Beautifully written. Concise and well positioned concepts. All true. Will save in my files for future use.

Rupert Murdoch Response: Bill Clinton was a liar. Bill Clinton was a rapist. Clinton. Clinton. Clinton. Liar. Liar. Liar.

George Bush Response: Karl - what's he talking about?

Karl Rove response: Hello, Bob Novak? I know who the Viscount Lacarte is and where he lives. You didn't hear this from me.

Pat Roberson Response: Someone in the CIA needs to take out this Viscount Lacarte.

Bill Frist Response: I've seen a videotape of this Viscount Lacarte and I can tell you that my diagnosis is that he is most definitely schizophrenic. Maybe even psychotic.

Jaques Chirac Response: This Lacarte, he is French, no? We French, we know this already. We have social systems here. Everybody here is happy, not miserable like poor people in America. (Dodges burning car tire)

Ahmed Chalabi response: Sorry. Closed door meeting with Cheney. No public response forthcoming.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Neil Shakespeare said...

I think we are kinda back in the feudal days. The rich do have their castles, their walled, gated communities (some with moats, I'm sure)and their own private security forces. But they always want the government to put more boots on the ground to control the poor, and Clinton did a real nice job helping them out with a million more cops, and Bush has given them lots of money to hire private contractors if they're not enough cops to protect them. And, of course, the government has paid for lots of new prisons to keep the riff-raff away from their gates.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Lance Mannion said...

See, I knew it would be a good one.

Actually, I've met very few conservatives in my life. Mostly what I meet are liberals who don't want to pay for the services they expect the government to provide and who don't want to feel like "girlie men" when they tell people who they voted for and want to be able to tell racist and sexist jokes without feeling guilty about it. So they vote Republican, tell their jokes, and rant and rave like hell when their streets don't get plowed and their sewers back up and their grandmother's social security check is late and their cousin comes home from Iraq without a leg and the Army charges him for the loss of his gun.

7:30 PM  
Blogger Bobby Lightfoot said...

Ah, Mssr. Le Visconte. How wonderful life is with you in the world.

Back before blogs I lived in Southern California, hemmed in on one side by stupid wannabes with whom I was expected to compete for the dubious attentions of music industry cocks and on the other by Birch Repugnicans and Navy contracters and sundry military IDIOTS.

I was lonely beyond description and eventually became convinced that this was because there was no one else like me in the world. This plunged me into a depression that I am still climbing out of rung by rung.

Now that I've escaped that Red State In Diguise everyone I meet in the flesh or in th' print that is like me is like another rung up.

What are we going to do about people that honestly believe one can legislate behavior? People that don't realize the revocation of abortion rights simply allows the priviledged to carry on and the un- so to die? People that believe that call any attempt to regulate Socialism and then dupe their constituencies with issues that disappear from th' table when the voting's done (thank god)?

Impeachment in '06!

I can smell it. Smells like victory.

cfcfvuvc- what we'll all be soon from chloroflourocarbons.

8:32 PM  
Anonymous Libby said...

Wow. Thanks to Lance for pointing me here. I've been trying to figure out how to say that, now I can just link to this eloquent post instead.

10:46 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Sound: Funny.

Bobby: You are too kind. The reason we feel isolated is that the main forum for ideas is cable TV, and they have been stacking the deck with paid shills like Hannity and O'Reilly for years, usually 3 or 4 against 1, and the 1 is either a loser who couldn't convince a dog that a milkbone is a good thing, or he shouted down and silenced. I'd like to see Hannity or O'Reilly in a moderated debate against someone like Noam Chomsky or even Howard Dean. They won't let that happen though. That is the internets are so important. This is our domain.

Lance: Your comments cut to the heart of the conservative strategy. The "Southern Startegy" is part of it. They can't appeal to the common people by being honest about their agenda, so they divide the country into factions, label them, demonize them, and then declare themselves in opposition to them. Atheists, Feminists, Homosexuals, girly-men etc. We were at a party in NY talking with a woman who is clearly a liberal, but she kept saying, "I'm NOT a liberal!" because that word has been effectively demonized.

It works.

The other piece you touched upon in your comments is how people in upper-income brackets, but who still aren't wealthy (meaning they still are only a few paychecks away from disaster - they must work) think tax cuts are going to help more than hurt them. Together, my wife and I make a good living, and yet we are paying more in taxes now then we did in the 90's, and we have less services. Schools charge a bundle for stuff down here. If your kid joins anything, Football, Band, whatever, it costs at leas a few hundred dollars. We even have to buy our kids' diplomas when they graduate.

They make us think we are in the club but really we are on the receiving end of the club.

Libby: Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

Neil: As always you are welcome here, as are your comments. You are right, they get everything they need and still whine that that it isn't enough!

Thanks everyone.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

This idea that the Free Market will correct itself is a myth, nothing more.

What's worse is that this has been proven in the event about five times in recent years. First the S&L disaster, now we have pension funds going belly up, and FEMA has run out of money to pay insurance claims. Guess who'll pick up the slack. Working joes who pay the taxes in this country.

The corporate burden to help fund all the necessary functions of government - and which they benefit from even more than we do (as noted in the post and comments) - whether infastructure or whatever - that burden has been successfully shifted from the health, banking and insurance industries to the average taxpayer.

And, as Al points out, we get less for our money than ever, even as corporate profits hit record levels, executive salaries go through the roof, and corporate welfare continues.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Jan said...

Al,

I think you are missing one important point regarding who pays taxes. I'll phrase this thought in simple language so conservatives may understand it.

The poor pay a blood tax. They serve in the armed forces. The rich do not serve. Chickenhawks do not serve.

When I was in the Army during the late unpleasentness in SE Asia there were some enlisted middle class white boys like myself, thanks mainly to the draft. I don't remember any rich boys; a few of the officers maybe? Almost all the enlisted lifers were black, hispanic, or poor whites. I'd be willing to bet the mortgage payment that statistic has not changed much in 35 years.

9:40 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Jan:

Absolutely.

8:02 PM  
Blogger Red Tory said...

Well said! That was a brilliant encapsulation of the mainstream liberal perspective on government and taxes! Here in Canada the level of political discourse tends to be more civil and less radically polarized, but many of the same attitudes and misconceptions about liberals prevail amongst the more reactionary elements of the right-wing who style themselves as being “conservative” along the lines of their Republican counterparts south of the border.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

"When they misbehave, the consumer will spend their dollars elsewhere."

Um. This may work for retail, I'd tell my conservative fellow-citizens, but I don't buy airliners (Boeing) or space technologies (Lockheed-Martin) or fighter jets (Northrop-Grumman) very often.

Critical thinking is a skill which isn't being taught, even at the Andovers of the world (you know who you are, Dubya).

1:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good article. Here's one possible "fly in the ointment":

Consider that if we were to "go Right" and outlaw abortion, there will be more kids. They will tend to be less cared for and half of them will be angry. Half of the angry ones will be violent. Half of the violent ones will go to jail, and the other half will make good soldiers.

Bottom Line: We all will be safer from foreign aggression if abortion is outlawed cause we will have a larger pool of Fighters.(Not to mention a larger population in general to keep the economy growing).

There are numerous "costs" to be borne with this Logic, but the bottom-line is irrefutable: greater security thru less abortion.

If a conservative were a conscious being, this is what he would tell us. Then, the liberal could at least understand how the conservative gets to his absolutist stances. The two could then talk it over. Our society could get somewhere.

Liberals: try to put your selves in the other guy's shoes. Help him speak his mind step-by-step. He can't do it without you.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Porlock Junior said...

Once upon a time I had a tagline for my e-mail and newsgroups that went something like this:

In a democratic government the interest of the public is, at least in principle, a factor in decisions. In corporations, according to their most articulate defenders, this is not the case.

That is, a piece of what you've said, reduced to a tag line. But you've covered all the ground, with an actual argument. Cheers.

BTW somebody once said he didn't agree with my line, but he didn't say why. Can't be what I said about corporations and their defenders, which is completely uncontroversial. Consider Milton Friedman, defender extraordinaire, who suggested that corporations which put any of their money into public-spirited things should be the object of shareholder suits, since the directors have breached their fiduciary duty of maximizing the shareholders' profits.

Reallly, he did, in his Newsweek column. In another, he explained how it was a good thing that public libraries were being starved of money, because they were a subsidy to the middle class and stole needed money from the poor. Really, he did. It makes you long for real capitalists like Andrew Carnegie.

12:01 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Thanks for such a well-written, informative article. I am going to link your post from my blog as well.

I would like to comment on the idea of consumers spending their dollar elsewhere when unhappy with a certain company. Thinking people bother with this. Also, those of the thinking people who can afford to, do so. This excludes a great number of Americans, such as myself. I consider myself a thinking person, but am financially unable to avoid Wal-Mart 100%. On the occasion that I find it necessary to do business with them, I think of all the progressive articles and websites I have read that I am now working against by shopping at Wal-Mart, and it hurts a bit. However, knowing that I often come within $10 of overdrafting between paydays, sometimes I find I have no choice. This is because I can't get child support. I can't get child support because my local agency is understaffed and hasn't the manpower to deal with my case in anything near what could be considered a timely or reasonable manner. My local agency is understaffed because it is underfunded. At a time when social programs are being cut, we constantly see record deficits, and tax cuts are being extended to the rich during a time of war costing a billion dollars a week, I see nothing worthy of the term "CONSERVATIVE" and feel personal anger towards anyone who labels themselves as such while promoting policies that are anything BUT fiscally conservative.

5:03 PM  
Blogger isabelita said...

jan - Thus it has ever been in the armed forces. My dad was an NCO in WWII, and taught many new soldiers down in one of the bases in the South. He told me that most of them were poor boys from small towns, and many didn't even know who Hitler was or why they were there! So much for that big fucking glorious wartime heroics stuff, eh?
Good explication here, Viscount. Makes one understand a bit better just how revolutions are begat, doesn't it? I for one would like to see a bloodless coup, but fat chance of that here in the US of Assholes.

2:52 PM  
Blogger fuckstick2020 said...

“Corporations are accountable to the people in the free market. When they misbehave, the consumer will spend their dollars elsewhere. The market takes care of itself.”

Only if Adam's Smith ideal of PERFECT INFORMATION is in progress. However, there is never perfect information in the capitalist markets. Therefore it is important for the government by the people for the people to monitor the markets. It is the job of the government to be accountable to and take care of the people.

I wrote about this recently:

http://middleschoolteacher2004.blogspot.com/2005/11/lets-talk-about-capitalism-shall-we.html

It is not the best but it talks about the shortcomings of capitalism and "free markets"

10:59 PM  

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