Sunday, July 8, 2012

10 Questions He'd Like To Ask A Conservative

I came across a self-described liberal website and clicked on a post about "10 questions you'd like to ask a conservative." It annoyed me so much I couldn't resist typing up a response.

*In what way are people who buy and sell paper making a more significant contribution to society than teachers, nurses, firefighters, police officers, mail carriers, artists, etc.?  

Assuming buying and selling paper refers to the stock market, I'll get to that later. Generally, I think this is a specious way of framing the question. Do you think that mail carriers and artists should be paid the same amount as teachers? The pay scale and raise schedule for each of these professions would have to be considered separately, and for the state-subsidized jobs (which I don't think that "artist" falls into), there are matters of how performance/merit, job risk, skill set, and public demand which would play a role in each of them. Considering how many bad teachers have tenure and (before California's solvency bubble burst) job security, something is so seriously wrong with the profession that throwing money at the problem isn't going to help. Being a good teacher should pay more than being a bad teacher--and in my opinion, good teachers are worth a hell of a lot more than the bureaucrats that fire them while maintaining their bloated and truly redundant bureaucracy. But that is the system progressives have installed in this and other states. Malcolm Gladwell makes an interesting argument that if teachers were chosen like football players, we'd have better (and higher paid) teachers. Unions protect many public sector employees from being fired for their incompetence and successfully lobby to get them benefits that exceed those of private sector employees. In spite of what poor compensation there is for that job, people seem to line up to get in on the deal. Maybe the benefits, the tenure-based job security, and the three-month vacation each year somehow make up for the lousy pay for many people.

And finally, I think that if you had what it took to make that much money "buying and selling paper" you'd probably be doing it, moral outrage notwithstanding.

*Why is physical labor less important than sitting behind a desk?
I'm sorry--I don't get the point of your question. Are you saying that the consultant who is able to tell NASA what went wrong with the Hubble telescope should be paid the same wage as the plumber that plunges the toilet in the NASA buildings? It is, after all, important to fix toilets and collect garbage. I don't think it's so easy in general (and it muddies the issue) to state things in terms of "importance." In a functioning business, people (even those with ostensibly the same qualifications) will have different value to that business, based on their expertise and their reliability. It isn't always the case that people are paid according to that value, but it's not because some aren't more valuable (to the company, not their worth as human beings) than others. Giving raises is not just to help your employees with the changing cost of living; it's a recognition of value to the employer. Most physical labor jobs would pay more if they required years of education. In some (not necessarily all) jobs considered menial, having 20 years experience is still worth a lot more than 5 years, and a smart business owner will pay according to that value. Not all owners and corporations are smart, to be sure (though government is dumber). 'Is a restaurant manager more important than a waiter?' is the wrong question. A better question is 'Does it take more (experience, talent, invested capital/risk etc.) to be a restaurant manager?'

*Why is it that when people hoard things, they are a scourge on society and when they hoard money, they are job creators? In fact, aren’t the people that buy things the true job creators? 
I don't know about the "scourge of society" comment, but let's talk about job creation. This sounds like a zen koan: Is it supply or demand that creates a job? Banks are able to pay you interest because all that "hoarded" money doesn't go into a swimming pool so that Scrooge McDuck can swim in it. Pooled capital allows investments, allows a bank to take a change on home loans (I'm sure you'd have no complaints if homes could only be bought with cash on the barrelhead), allows . It may be surprising to find out banks are not charitable organizations--they protect and insure your money and reward you for the use of it, because it isn't simply hoarded. It is used to do things, and the things it is used for require people to do things and get paid for them. Why, that sounds almost like job creation. And that stock market you have absolutely no use for... Why do people bother investing? Because the money turns a profit when the invested money creates jobs that produce value; losing investments represent jobs that aren't producing net value (and eventually some people lose their employment when that trend of value loss continues).

What is employment anyway? Most of the people that are swayed by talk about The Rich have never permanently employed other people with their own money. How much money do you have to rake in before you make enough to be able employ not only yourself but able to employ ONE other person? How many people can you employ before you are in the top 2% of money makers? The people that are so down on corporations seem to have no idea that all that pooling together of hoarded money pays a lot of salaries. Americans that can be so easily manipulated by talk of corporations can pretend that monetary value leaks up from the ground and rich people build a fence around it, when investment capital comes from savings plans and inheritances and other hoarding of the fruits of our labors. A restaurant franchise doesn't just pop up simply because the proletariat's wandering around with a few bucks in their pockets dreaming of hamburgers. It comes from capital that is pooled from "hoarded" stashes--people's savings. Remember George Bailey in It's A Wonderful Life explaining that the money wasn't actually in the bank vault??? It was in one guy's house loan, and in another's business, etc. It's easy to abstract away a lot of reality by talking vaguely about rich people and evil corporations.

*Both the 10 Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins have no mention of being gay or having abortions. Greed, though, seems to be a biggie. Why do conservatives seem to get that backwards?
Aside from the fact that an enormous number of ethical, educated people in this nation do find abortion mentioned in the Ten Commandments (do you really need a clue as to which one?), there are nuances to the Culture War that can't be reduced to an oversimplified bumper sticker-style treatment like this. But there are two things that I find interesting about this statement. One is that it implies that it's not a question of whether to 'legislate morality', but of what kind of (or whose) morality it is imperative to legislate. The second thing I find interesting about this statement is that liberal campaigns seem to rely greatly on ignoring 'Thou shalt not covet.' Maybe they should review the Ten Commandments.

*When did the right to unlimited profit become greater than the general welfare of the people?
'm pretty sure *that* happened before recorded history. If you're talking about the history of America, it might surprise you to know that we didn't always have a capital gains tax, a federal reserve, or an income tax for that matter. A better question is 'When were bribes of government handouts enough to manipulate the people into thinking that security was more important than freedom (to both succeed and fail)'?
Somehow though, it seems to me small business owners are more threatened by Obama's policies than huge corporations. Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffett seem pretty chummy with him. I guess they don't care about money.

*Why don’t people realize that there’s no such thing as a “self made man?” Even the most successful and ethical people can thank their parents, their teachers, their siblings, their employees, their customers, the government, their contractors, etc. Without them, they would be nothing. The unethical might want to work on their apologies. 

Are you implying that the self-made man is unethical? My dad was a self-made man. He taught himself business and learned by making mistakes and failing and starting over again. He paid people based on the job, not their skin color or nationality--because of both capitalistic and ethical principles--and was himself a job creator because of his willingness to risk his own capital-- and he prospered under the Reagan economy in spite of being only a small business owner. He was a more reliable help to his parents than any government agency was. And when he didn't have money this progressive state government (not to mention the federal government) found any reasons they could not to give him services out of the money he put into the system over the years. Guess what? All kinds of people are unethical--and greedy--regardless of their economic status, especially those who are willing to buy into failed policies promoted by some of the most rich, greedy, and unprincipled politicians whose platform is based almost entirely on promoting class envy (a technique exploited by all manner of fascists and Marxists). I'm not sure what "self-made man" you're talking about, but chances are you owe your employment to the fact that "self-made" people have hoarded money to exchange for your valuable services.

*Why should people who inherit their money not pay taxes and people who earn their money be taxed at the highest rate? 
Ok, a loaded question that is actually seems more than a rhetorical. If this is about capital gains, this is what allows companies to grow their business (i.e. employ more people) and make the investors (the people who own stock) a profit. The more profit is in there for investors the more investors. A stagnant economy is one in which people are nervous about risking their money (i.e. investing) as well as spending money to create significant demand. Like we've seen the past 4 years with the number of employed flatlining as the employment-age population continues to rise. Capital gains profit allows a small business to become a large business and provide some competition to those stagnant "too big to fail" corporations that have secured as much loyalty from liberal politicians as from so-called conservative politicians. Capital gains was reduced significantly in the Clinton years and (amazingly!) didn't hurt revenue--because it boosted the economy. The budget eventually suffered from spending growing out of proportion with the increased revenues, and in the middle of the Bush era Congress was able to effect major budget cuts in spite of the two war fronts and the lowered taxes that Obama would later claim make such an exercise impossible.

If my father had been able to leave me anything, it would be what he had left over after Uncle Sam had already taken his "fair share." He wouldn't have been able to leave me a house, because I'd have to sell the house to pay for what I owed. (Unless I was a small business owner and could afford to fire some employees.) And the money the government got from that might wind back the national debt clock for a tenth of a second. If that.  But then, every little bit helps.

*At what point did we start judging people based on the size of their checkbook rather than the size of the heart? 
At what point did we start stringing nonsense syllables into sentences? Seriously though, the things I often hear from progressives sound a lot more like judgment based on checkbook size than anything I've heard by conservatives. On the page where I found these formidable questions there were statements characterizing rich people as cheap. "Oh no," you say perhaps, "They were just commenting on rich people who are also cheap." So you'd feel the same about someone saying "You know what I hate: Poor people that are unsanitary." Of course, the point is that cheapness is reprehensible in the rich because the poor can't help being cheap (depending on who you mean by "poor"). From the comments about the "self-made man" I think that many fiscal progressives do judge people on the size of their checkbook (when they can't write checks from it).

*At what point did getting sick become a moral failing? 
About the time that having money did? Sorry, just I'm not sure what sense to apply to what was probably meant more as a stunning bit of wit rather than a serious question.

This question appears to be about the question of nationalized health care. I live in a state that is larger in population than many countries. Almost all revenue to the federal government comes from people that live in the States. All the help we may conceivably get from the government could be collected and distributed more efficiently (and more appropriately) by our respective state governments. If a state-controlled health care system isn't working, why is a federally controlled health care system the answer? Sounds like it is really in the interests of lobbyists and a bloated bureaucracy than in the interests of the people of the States. The perceived "benefit" of a national health care is that no matter how wasteful it is, it can "always" be put on the next generation's tab. The only "problem" that is solved is that pesky ol' fiscal accountability, which gets indefinitely swept under the rug. If a health care system is solvent and tenable, it is so at the community and state level; and if it isn't at the state or community level, then the issue is merely tranformed into a deferred problem bubble waiting to burst like the problem in 2008 (only much worse). It sure isn't solved.
But this moral high-horse argument is really a red herring to distract from having a REAL discussion of how to have an infrastructure that really benefits people. Most conservatives are not libertarian, and they don't think they government should on principle provide no safety net at all. It may surprise you to know that charitable giving is high among conservatives. But conservatives are right to distrust the government's ability to manage charity, but that doesn't mean that they are against it in all its forms. But it has to be effective, has to leave options open to the consumer, and has to be fiscally solvent, and conservatives are right to doubt that any of these objectives are being met with what it being offered to this nation. It is known that contrary to his pledge, Obama has worked hand in hand with lobbyists (only he tried to hide it--bad PR); he promised to make laws available to the American public with enough time for people to form an opinion about them before becoming law--which didn't happen. I review 100+ page technical documents, and even 6 months wouldn't be enough time to understand the implications of a cobbled together 2700-page monster law. Yet, it was a law that needed to pass before we could find out exactly what was in it.

*How has being a conservative helped you? 
In the great state of California, it's not much help at all. My views and concerns are not represented while I'm in a top bracket of providing the state with money and a low percentile of benefiting from it. Plus, if you're liberal you have no shortage of people that will smile and be your friend if you recite the intellectual swill of the university social science classes and treat you like a pariah if you have a conservative opinion. Plus, I don't have that warm feeling that comes from being able to think of myself as especially compassionate and good and tolerant and unprejudiced simply because I have the "right" views. So, it seems to be of great benefit in this state to be liberal and not much benefit to stick to conservative principles. It would be a lot easier to drink the Kool-Aid. Except that I would know that I'm not being true to what I perceive about the world. I guess maybe you think that it's compensation for me to live in my mansion and drive my yacht around the lake using the money that I owe to you, but I'm not even well enough off to employ a few employees, let alone live that kind of lifestyle. Of course, for now, it's legal for me to pursue that if that were my definition of happiness--but then, the right to pursue happiness is connected to the right to save (i.e. hoard) capital to pay for nice things or pursue a dream. If the right to pursue happiness doesn't mean anything more than the right to demand that things be paid for with other people's money, than it will come to mean as little as it came to mean in the Soviet Union.

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