Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Differing Views of Government

One of the reverberating themes on the right wing of the blogosphere these days is the notion that 'Liberals can't complain about Stupak-Pitts because they wanted the government in health care and that means giving the government the power to screw it up.'

In the words conservative feminist blogger Jenn Q Public:

Proponents of liberal health care reform deliberately lured a bloodthirsty vampire over their thresholds, and now they’re shocked – SHOCKED – to find they have fangs buried deep in their necks. I’m not one to blame the victim, but it sounds like they might be getting exactly what they were asking for.


This sums up the entire conservative response to liberal complaints about Stupak-Pitts in a nutshell. 'Stupid liberals wanted fascism and now they are complaining about it.'

This, of course, is not an argument at all. It's an ad hominem attack that allows the actual points of debate to be entirely ignored. I'm not entirely sure, however, whether this is premeditated or whether it is intended as a genuine argument.

The left and the right, after all, have fundamentally differing views of the proper definition of 'government.'

The conservative view of government is that it is an inherent entity of its own, with specific coercive and authoritarian traits that define it. Government cannot exist without those traits, goes the right wing argument, and is something else entirely without those traits. Hence the need for a small government with specific and strictly defined areas of authority.

The liberal view of government is that government is representative of the people who elect it and that it has an obligation to pursue, protect, and ensure their interests, opportunities, and rights. They believe that government should be able to do what needs doing, in the best interests of the people, as long as the rights of the people are protected.

The emphasis is important. Liberals do not believe in the 'unlimited' government that conservatives often claim they advocate nor in 'fascism' (not even the terribly misdefined 'fascism' of conservatives) or 'socialism.' Liberals believe in responsible, effective government as a necessary component of civil society.

There needs to be a balance between the power of the government to do what needs doing and the protections in place to prevent it from ignoring all responsibility and simply using coercive force to do its will. The irony is that it is conservatives who have continually advocated the use of coercive force by the government to do their own will both at home and overseas. Corporate conservatives want the US military to enforce their business interests. Neoconservatives want American empire. Religious conservatives wish their religious mores enforced as law. All of these require the expansion of government power, not its contraction, and all are far more dangerous to the rights of individual Americans than health care reform. Yet they crow over Stupak-Pitts as some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy of government run amok. They rarely acknowledge the far greater danger of irresponsible demagogues advocating for real fascism from several directions at once.

While not precisely a 'liberal' myself (if anything, I am well to the left of most American liberals), I certainly support health care reform. Like liberals, I believe in responsible government rather than the unfettered government alternately feared and worshiped by conservatives. I certainly don't care for Stupak-Pitts and think it a horrible mistake, both politically and morally.

From the quoted article:

'When you invite the government to become more deeply involved in health care, you’re also inviting greater government interference in personal choice. Medical decisions become political decisions. That’s how it works, and it’s why philosophical opposition to the growth of government isn’t the crazy-eyed wingnuttery progressives make it out to be.'


Once again, rather than discuss the real issues at hand, we see an evasion of the topic with a statement about those stupid liberals who keep inviting the monster into the closet. The automatic assumption that responsible decision making and rational thought go out the window once one decides to create health care policy means that liberals have no right to complain about the policies that result from reform.

I can't speak for 'liberals', but I don't consider 'philosophical opposition to the growth of government' to be all that terrible. The government is one of several potential threats to individual freedoms. There are real risks to government expansion that must always be weighed carefully. I am no statist, I am a philosophical anarcho-socialist. What I consider 'wild-eyed wing-nuttery' is the belief that the private sector can take care of all of society's needs if civil society abdicates its own responsibility for its own needs. To reference a favorite phrase of the Anonymous Liberal, one cannot rely on the underpants gnomes to take care of the poor, elderly, and sick if we do not do so as a society. When one puts 'philosophical objection to the growth of government' over the economic and physical well-being of Americans, one has crossed the 'wing-nut' line. When one's personal concern for having to wait longer in the office for service prevents one from wanting others to have that same access to medical care then one has crossed an even darker line: one is no longer merely a wing-nut.

This brings us to the ultimate issue regarding Stupak-Pitts and health care reform at large. The government works for us. As conservatives are so fond of saying, American tax-payers pay a great deal of money to the government every year. If an automobile mechanic you were paying to provide proper maintenance and upkeep on your car deliberately used substandard parts and you were injured in an auto accident as a result, the depraved indifference law means that the auto mechanic is guilty of a felony.

Stupak-Pitts is a deliberate act of depraved indifference on the part of a bipartisan conservative coalition.

Everyone should complain about that.

10 comments:

Mike Hatcher said...

I think this article is the one I'm in the most harmony with you. I've always felt in harmony with much of what you write, with the inevitable odd "twist" at the conclusion. But this one is different, even the following: "Corporate conservatives want the US military to enforce their business interests. Neoconservatives want American empire. Religious conservatives wish their religious mores enforced as law." I get it, right, no protest here on that. (Although I'm not really well versed on what a "Neocon" is.) The problem is so basic, as I see it. I recall when I "speak from the heart" it sometimes comes across to you as worn out Libertarian talking points, be that as it may, I will share. The nature of man is evil, this is tempered, even sometimes trumped by man choosing to accept the goodness of God in his or her life. I believe it is possible to "choose God's way" even if one is unaware that God exists. Thus, given man's evil, greedy nature, the people in power will "naturally" abuse that power to the detriment of the less powerful. Corporations and "Rich People" need to be held in check, while competition can help with keeping an individual or group from gaining too much power, it isn't enough. We do need a government that has power to keep people in check, but at the same time, people in government are naturally evil too, they are naturally greedy and thus government, made up of people, naturally over extends, expands and abuses it's power. Government needs to be held in check. I believe the U.S. government was blessed by God with a system that does the best job at having evil people work together at hampering each other from becoming overpoweringly evil. (Have I used the word "evil" enough in this post?) Anyway, currently, of all the corporate monsters, hate groups, and other dangerous people out there, there is none bigger or more powerful than Uncle Sam , and Mr. Sammy looks to me like in this past 18 months he went from obese to morbidly obese, emphasis on morbid. And if we have an economic disaster far worse than what we have now, it is going to be a hay day for Zealots, be they environmentalist Zealots or religious Zealots. There are plenty of problems in the world, plenty of bad guys and battles to fight, but at the moment, it is government growth that I see as the biggest threat to this society. I'd be all into that anarcho-socialist stuff if I didn't believe that people were so naturally selfish.

Chris Richards said...

We've been steadily shearing government controls on business since the 1970s. The result has been three major recessions and three major, wide reaching corporate scandals. We've got one of the largest rich/poor divides in the democratic world. We are the only democratic country in the world that does not guarantee basic health care to all its citizens. Despite the abuses and civil rights violations of the Bush and Clinton administrations, we have much bigger problems than the growth of government.

Now, I believe in good government rather than big government. I am a tiny bit of a fiscal conservative at heart and I don't want to see money wasted on programs that don't work. However, any program that does work is worth the expense and there are worse things in the world than paying taxes. Sometimes one gets what one pays for, and society can't solve its very serious problems for free.

As for the moral argument that people are naturally self-interested and insensitive to the needs of others (which is the essential capacity for evil, though not everyone acts on their nature to the degree necessary for true evil), I certainly agree. It doesn't change the fact that society has a slough of issues that seriously need to be addressed.

Despite the popularity of saying so, these issues cannot all be addressed locally. Nor can the private sector solve them just because we think the government should not try.

The only means by which we can address many of these problems is through government.

Recognizing the problems and then allowing one's fear of government to convince one that they are not problems or should not be solved, as I said, is to assume a portion of the guilt.

People need to come before philosophy.

Mike Hatcher said...

One point- (only a few minutes till work, but perhaps more to come) The "We've got one of the largest rich/poor divides in the democratic world" is irrelavent in my opinion. How poor the poor are IS relavent, the distance between the poor and the rich is not. If distance mattered, I'd suggest measuring the distance between our poor in this country and the poor in places I've lived in Africa. There is a big difference there. Should we not spend our resources closing that gap before coming up with more benifits for our poor?

Chris Richards said...

'How poor the poor are IS relavent, the distance between the poor and the rich is not.'

Bullshit. More than that, irresponsible and stupid bullshit.

Fifty years ago, America was the most productive manufacturing nation in the world. Real wages were significantly higher for working Americans. The working class could buy houses and new cars without going into debt that would last until they died. Corporate CEOs were well paid for their positions... in the low six figures.

Over that fifty years, the income of the management class has skyrocketed to astronomical levels while real wages have remained steady for the professional classes and fallen steeply for the working and middle class. American industry has been gutted, primarily by the reckless or greedy business decisions of the people giving themselves huge bonuses every year and ever larger raises every couple of years.

The gap between rich and poor in America impacts our society on many levels, from crime rates to infant mortality. To believe otherwise is stupid. To pretend otherwise is evil.

The leaders of American business have deliberately put large numbers of Americans out of work in order to put more money in their own pockets. By doing so, they have managed to deprive many of the Americans who still have jobs of what was once considered basic human dignity and respect.

To say, particularly after the corruption and cynicism of Wall Street led to the credit collapse last yet, that the rich/poor divide is irrelevant is worse than ridiculous.

'If distance mattered, I'd suggest measuring the distance between our poor in this country and the poor in places I've lived in Africa. There is a big difference there. Should we not spend our resources closing that gap before coming up with more benifits for our poor?'

The distance may not be as great as you like to think. Yes, the American working poor are better off than their counterparts in many countries. Yes, world poverty is a serious problem that must be addressed. One of the best ways to address it would be to address the rich/poor divide in those very countries in the same way that it must be addressed in this country. In many ways, the rich collude globally to keep the poor in a position where they can be easily exploited.

Have you stopped to think that we'd be in a better position to solve the problems that bother you so much in Africa if we actually solved some of our own problems and increased the ability of our society to extend help to others?

We can't solve world poverty by ignoring American poverty. We can't address corruption overseas without cleaning our own house first.

Most of all, we can't keep demanding the rest of the world follow our example and build their economies on the backs of their poor and working classes. If you really want to fight world poverty, lobby the right wingers at the World Bank to stop requiring countries raise the price of heating oil and sell their public utilities to American and European investors in order to receive WTO aid.

The organization claiming to do the most to fight world poverty has done more to perpetuate it than anyone or anything.

Mike Hatcher said...

"People need to come before Philosophy" Amen to that my friend. As cynical as I am about the nature of humans, I agree whole-heartedly with your statement. I remember a pastor once saying that if people are physically hungery you should address that need before feeding them spiritually. I know my following statement is hyperbola and oversimplification but when a new government help program starts, I just see it as 70K to a government employee then 30K in actual aid to people. 70K to buildings and copying machines, then another 30K helping people. I know you desire efficiency in government but I believe very little is there. Yes, the private sector and charities can't and/or won't meet the needs of all, but no government does either, there are always people that fall through. We have food with foodstamps and food banks, Susidized housing, Social Security, Medicaid, free emergency medical, free public education. I know you say that isn't enough, but if it isn't, how can you assure me another program is going to be the cure all? Answer, it isn't. All the government programs in the world won't wipe out poverty, it never will. If I had the powers of a king, I wouldn't be taking away those government services, (there are others that I would cut- NEA and NIH by way of examples) but I'd want to work within existing programs like medicare to improve them rather than starting new programs.

Mike Hatcher said...

I meant to get back sooner on the "distance" issue. In a nearly fantasy world of NFL football players, minimum wage use to be in the 200K range some 20 years ago, now it is in the 400K range. for a 20 year span one could say ajusting for inflation, these minimum wage workers haven't made any gains, while the top paid players who were getting 5 to 8 times that can these days get 10 to 20 times minimum wage. Thus in NFL world- the gap is increasing between the bottom and the top. I wouldn't say my unconcern for the widening gap is stupid or irresponsible, if 400k is good enough to live on, who cares if someone signs a 7 year deal for 80 times that amount? The gap to me, again, is irrelavent. Now in the real world, working only 40 hours a week at minimum wage is not enough to live on, but if person A starts a one man business and starts netting 100k a year, then hires someone, pays them 30k and ends up netting more, than hires 2 more, still at 30K (no raises or profit sharing) and ends up netting 200K, good for that person, believe me, the people taking the 30k didn't quit a 50k job to take it. More likely person A hired either unemployed or minimum wage earners and they are now better off for it. But you don't like those scenarios because eventually Person A might end up a millionaire, start a corporation, employ thousands and might even end up a billionaire. If you are earning money, be it a painter, prostitute, police officer. or pill pusher, you are producing a product or service that people want and are willing to pay for. Pruduction increases wealth, a social safety net is great, yes, run by the government, but stop worrying about the rich getting richer, "off the backs of the poor laborers" , peonage has been illegal for some time now. I will conceed that another great and destructive vice is in our society that wasn't so omnipresent 50 years ago, credit cards and easy credit. Debt is a form of slavery and I'll stand behind you if you propose to regulate the snot out of that industry, people are addicts to getting things before they can pay for them, and I see this as a great evil, but hey, prohibition didn't stop alcohol, so what can you do about debt addiction?

Chris Richards said...

'All the government programs in the world won't wipe out poverty, it never will.'

I've written on this topic myself. Of course it never will. Anyone who believes they can completely eliminate poverty and unemployment (whether through 'the market' or through 'the welfare state') is a utopian who doesn't understand the way basic economics works. There is only so much to go around and only so many people to buy it.

What this means is that there is only so much money to be made and only so many jobs to go around. Even if we solved all of the real injustices that have artificially inflated unemployment and poverty, it's never entirely going away.

This is precisely why the social safety net is necessary. Someone is going to need it no matter what.

'If I had the powers of a king, I wouldn't be taking away those government services, (there are others that I would cut- NEA and NIH by way of examples) but I'd want to work within existing programs like medicare to improve them rather than starting new programs.'

I would scrap/replace a lot of existing government programs completely. I'd cut Medicaid and put everyone currently on Medicaid on Medicare instead. I'd also cut Medicare Advantage, which is nothing but a corporate handout. I also think expanding Medicare until everyone is covered makes more sense than creating a new health care program, at least in the short term. It would also get faster results.

It's not about new programs, it's about making sure we have the best programs possible. That way we get tangible results for the tax money we pay the government. In some cases this may require a new program, in some cases it may mean cutting programs or retooling programs, in some cases it may mean expanding existing programs rather than creating new ones.

'Now in the real world, working only 40 hours a week at minimum wage is not enough to live on, but if person A starts a one man business and starts netting 100k a year, then hires someone, pays them 30k and ends up netting more, than hires 2 more, still at 30K (no raises or profit sharing) and ends up netting 200K, good for that person, believe me, the people taking the 30k didn't quit a 50k job to take it.'

The problem is that this is happening less and less, while existing businesses are firing their employees and sending work to other countries. These people are systematically gutting the American economy. By undermining the wage-earning base of the economy, they take money out of the US and send it overseas. Money that once circulated through the US economy is now taken out of it completely. The number of people who cannot afford to buy goods and services increases, and as the demand for production increases it forces producers to continue to contract.

This how the US manufacturing industry died. The same thing is now happening in other industries as well. All of this widens the rich/poor gap and damages the American economy as whole.

Chris Richards said...

'Pruduction increases wealth, a social safety net is great, yes, run by the government, but stop worrying about the rich getting richer, "off the backs of the poor laborers" , peonage has been illegal for some time now.'

First, US production has been falling for many years as noted above. This means less wealth is being produced and it is in fewer hands. If production is steadily falling, how do the rich get richer? The law of scarcity says they do it by taking money out of the economy (money that would be used to buy goods and services and support American business) and keeping in their own hands. Thus money circulates between a smaller economy of the elite, while the larger economy tanks.

Second, peonage is NOT illegal. It's name has just been changed to 'right to work' and 'at will employment.' 'Right to work' laws deprive wage earners of the ability to bargain fairly with their employers (which would be the proper way to determine wages in a capitalist economy) and forces them to accept what their employer gives them. This has the effect of lowering wages and benefits across the board, which makes people poorer across the board. Therefore they become more dependent on their employer and their job and step further away from citizenship and closer to serfdom.

On top of that, 'at will' employment agreements increase the employer's right to fire their employees at any time and also allow them to change their polices, compensation, and benefits at any time without negotiation. So a greater dependence on the employer is now combined with a greater freedom for the employer to dispense with the employee. When someone can be fired at any time for no reason AND their dependence on their employer has been increased by laws the decrease income across the board for everyone, they cease to become 'people' in the economic sense of the word.

Thus the increasing margin between the rich and the poor should be of great concern to everyone.

Mike Hatcher said...

You really got me thinking of the lower middle class/working poor, whatever you want to call them of today vs. 50 years ago. I'm thinking of my job and coworkers of a few years ago, working as a security guard at $8/hr then getting "raises" every year to year and a half to 8.50 then 9. Quite the meager wages. Yet still, my coworkers had their cellphones and cable T.V., a car, and usually debt. If they could time warp to 50 years ago, would they trade their life for one without internet or DVD's? My gut feeling on this is that they actually would be happier during a previous time but that, given a choice, they wouldn't give up the modern convienances like microwaves and 24hr Walmarts for a "simpler time" . I truly believe that even with the crummy deals by employers in "right to work" states, people in our country, with self disipline to stay out of snares like credit card debt (sadly rarely seen at any economic level)and a little determination, be it working two jobs if necessary, can reach virtually any economic goal they set for themselves. I'm not sure how this compares to other wealthy nations like the Neatherlands or Denmark, but it sure seems to beat most of the world. The following isn't a "point" but more of a tangent: I suspect the traditional Amish life is probably better than the challenges of modern life, but aren't modern convienances a sort of "value" that (grasping for the right term here) the lower class in this country tend to have that can be considered increased prosperity from that of the past? Again, I say this not in an attempt to refute your argument that things were better for the "working class" 50 years ago, I'll concede that, but just interested in how you compare a past time to modern life.

Chris Richards said...

I'm not talking about technology or conveniences at all. I'm talking about the ability to buy a house without going into debt one will not escape for thirty years. I'm talking about the ability for the average working man to buy a brand new car. Both of these possibilities are things of the past, far out of the reach of the vast majority of working Americans. Fifty years ago, this was not the case.

As for the issue of credit card debt, that's easily solved: usury laws prosecuting companies that charge obscene rates on the same basis that we prosecute loan sharks. Many credit card companies now charge interest rates comparable to loan sharks, and for the same motives as loan sharks: to get people into debt they will never get out of so that they can continually profit from interest on principal that will never be repayed.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I - Vermont) has proposed just such legislation.