Victims, Taxes, Redistribution, and Problem Solving

Well I wasn’t surprised to see Mitt Romney trolling the democrats in a “secretly” tapped video “leaked” onto the internet.  Calling the democrat base a bunch of whiny, entitled, good for nothing, no tax paying, victim playing, free loaders is pretty hyperbolic and actually funny… if he were joking.  He’s not though, he apparently actually believes the entire democrat base is like that because he hasn’t backed down.  Not very many people are calling him on the hyper partisan aspect of his statement, but he is defending it pretty vigorously.

In his statements following the release of the video, to his credit(?), he has owned his words.  He has taken the opportunity to talk about redistribution, his view of what American values are, and how damaging he believes government assistance is in achieving the social engineering agenda.

I’m bothered by the idea that wealth redistribution is only a “socialist” thing.  It really beleaguers the whole concept of what redistribution and wealth are.  Doesn’t Capitalism function as a wealth redistribution mechanism?  If we look at the numbers of consumer spending from 2010 we see those with incomes less than 70k per year spending 2.7 trillion and those with incomes greater than 150k per year, spending 1.6 trillion (this number is approximate and based on memory, if it is too far off, please tell me and I’ll edit).  The top end of the 2010 consumer spending index includes a bunch of people that are upper middle income earners, not even the tip top that really consolidate the majority of the wealth in this country.

I understand that the term “wealth redistribution” is most closely associated with communism, but that doesn’t mean the functioning of the concept is exclusive to it.  As illustrated in the numbers from 2010, over 1 trillion dollars of wealth is “redistributed” from the bottom to the top.  The right talks about how the dems have implemented class warfare, but frankly, that fire has always been burning.  The bottom wants to get to the top, regardless of what Romney believes, the vast majority of the weakest members of our society do not desire weakness.  They want and strive for more, but the state of our society has increasingly made it seem impossible for them to reach that goal.  The sense of hopelessness is palpable and shouldn’t be diminished by those who like to denigrate hope and change as a mantra of the down trodden.

This is why communism was such a powerful tool for the elite.  It gave the people hope and allowed them to believe in the possiblity of a better future.  We’ve realized that when all the power is consolidated among a precious few, it doesn’t matter how the rhetoric of the system is constructed, the only ones who will benefit are the powerful and they will do so on the backs of the many.

So you might be wondering, what the fuck is this guy talking about.  Is he advocating communism now?  No, I’m talking about how Capitalism can be just as dysfunctional as a poorly run Communist system.  Any system that allows the consilidation of wealth and power among a few is prone to corruption and cannot be sustained.  It might last for a while, but the people will eventually lose hope and their productivity will suffer or they will leave for a better life if possible.  Think about all of the people who stream to the US with hope for a new better life.  They aren’t coming here because they like aristocratic rule and dictatorships.  They are coming here because of the freedom and opportunity to achieve prosperity.

You might argue that consumers are free to not spend and prevent that wealth going to the top, while in a governmental sense wealth taken from the top and given the bottom isn’t an optional thing for top earners.  You’d certainly have a fair point, but I ask you to consider the reality of mobilizing consumers to forego purchasing necessary goods and services to send a message.  Is it even feasible to assume a large enough movement of action to truly exercise the right of choice in this type of economy?  This is like the idea of not voting to tell politicians that you are fed up.  That only works if you can convince an absurdly large majority to accept the near term pain in favor of a very long term gain.

Our economy doesn’t work like this.  We all need to purchase necessities and one way or another that money finds its way to the very top.  This isn’t inherently wrong, it is just an illustration of wealth redistribution.  The wealth spread among the bottom is constantly funneled to the top.  The top is much more capable of hoarding and consolidating wealth so how does it get recycled back to the bottom?

Romney saying the idea of the government helping the weakest members of our society is “foreign” frustrates me.  It isn’t foreign, unless you consider the entirety of our system stems from foreign roots.  The enlightenment was “foreign.”  Democracy was “foreign.”  Currency was “foreign.”  Capitalism was built on “foreign” concepts.  America was the new kid on the block and everything we’ve built was based on foreign ideas.

Redistribution may be a dirty word, but it is applicable to what happens in the top end of our economy now.  What Romney is really against is distribution of wealth to the lower earners.  He wants wealth redistributed from low earners to high earners, that is what he is advocating.  He doesn’t want the money the high earners have going to the government, this way it can be consolidated at the top.  The top will become even more powerful than it is now.  This isn’t hating success.  This is a realistic reflection of a probable outcome of the policies he is advocating.

Should those of us in the middle and bottom just trust that those at the top have our best interests at heart?  Should we just trust that they will give us the same avenues for opportunities they have been afforded in the past?  Is it reasonable for us to be skeptical of their motives since they are already powerful and it is quite well known that money and power can have a corrupting influence.  Our system needs checks and balances and part of that check on run away corporate power is controlling how the money flows in the economy.  If it is not recycled, then money leaves the economy and there is a vacuum effect.  Is Obama any different?  Probably only marginally, but that’s better than nothing, I trust him more than Romney.

Why do I trust Obama more than Romney?  Because he can at least articulate American values that I identify with.  He doesn’t need to rely on literal interpretation of the founding documents to advocate his agenda.  There is nothing wrong with talking about what the founders discussed and advocated, but it is really important to talk about it in terms of what the intent was, not what the literal words say.  The most common case is the second amendment, but the runner up is often the idea of slavery.  All of these great flourishes of language on equality, fights for freedom, governance of the people, for the people, by the people, were all punctuated by the real existence of slavery.  So clearly, the founders were not talking about a literal depiction of their current world.  They were offering up high minded ideals to future generations.  They could only imagine a world that would be more free in which people were treated equally.

They did not live this life, but some of them took steps towards it.  The expectation is that we will evolve our ideas to meet current and future needs, not regress.  The founders quite clearly wanted these documents to speak to the future, as such they are living breathing things that take on new meaning and intent with each passing generation.  Our values are taken from these documents and the generations that have followed, but any revelations from the past must be viewed in the context of the present and future.  For example, your freedom of speech does not absolve you of criticism or social responsibility.  Mitt Romney seems to think it is not acceptable to use free speech to critcise someone elses use of free speech.  That idea concerns me greatly.  It is something the far right has been more vocal about in recent months and it is wrong.  Just because you throw something out into the national discourse doesn’t mean others cannot and should not say something about it.  It isn’t being an apologist to say, ‘this person doesn’t speak for all of us.’

He talks about values and that’s great, but his actions speak louder.  He has shown several times that his values are not the same as many Americans.  I am deeply concerned that he does not understand why the concept of America is so amazingly powerful, still shining as a beacon in the world.

I was raised in an America that represented the best of what humanity should strive for.  It wasn’t always able to live up to that lofty ideal, but the sense that it was always working towards that goal was there.  Now, it seems like there are many who see Americas value in the world as that of king; demanding, telling, taking, punishing; and Romney is their champion.

They are concerned that an America that does not constantly use force and bravado will be succeptable to the whims of our enemies.  Unfortunately, while these people ‘do not speak for all of us,’ they do have quite a bit of voting power.  It concerns me because these traits are the worst of what America has been and should not be elevated as our values.  We should be accepting and patient.  We should be considerate and thoughtful.  We should hold our allies to high standards of conduct.  Aggressiveness should not be prized as it is not a favorable trait for working in the international community.  There is a vast difference between the aggressiveness needed to take bold steps in government or business and the subtle unrelenting gently increasing pressure that is required for foreign policy achievements.

We do not achieve success in foreign policy through false bravado and we cannot afford another major campaign in the desert.  Mitt Romney is either willing to sacrifice the future of America for the sake of Israel or he is a liar.  Because he has said the US stands with Israel without equivocation.  Israel has been culpable in breaking peace accords by settling off limit areas, just as Palestine has been culpable of the same by attacking those settlements or other things.  Neither is right, but to fail at holding Israel to a standard of excellence that does not accept that type of action and doubling down is a danger to the future of America.  If Israel pulls us into a major war in the near east, will we be able to afford it?  Will we be more or less secure?

Are these the things we value in this country?  They aren’t my values, I know who’s values they are, but those aren’t the people I think we should strive to be.

Finally, he alludes to social engineering when he talks about how damaging government assistance is to the psyche of the downtrodden.  There is a certain amount of truth in this concept, but in order to see that truth you have to consider the assistance an incentive program.  In any system you have to consider what behavior you are incentivising and government assistance is no different.  The point where we diverge is the end result.  The numbers I talked about earlier are an example of why the assistance is important in keeping demand high.  The bottom outspends the top by almost double, these people must have money to spend otherwise this major economic driver will sputter and we will have a serious supply surplus.

In addition, it is simply false to presume that if current programs incentivize the wrong things, every aspect of the programs is bad and should go away.  It is a version of a straw man argument and a false equivalence.  If a culture of dependency is bad, and some people on government assistance have a culture of dependency, then government assistance creates a culture of dependency?  We need more information here, this is not an equivalency statement.  We need to actually talk about what it is that creates a culture of dependency and how much systemic dependency we are willing to accept.  There is certainly a crescendo of zero tolerance on this subject, but that isn’t everyone.  Many accept that no matter how excellent a system is, some will find a way to abuse it.  This is the same with any great thing, like cars, internet, nuclear power, captitalism, religion, you name…

Ultimately, this comes down to problem solving.  To effectively solve a problem, the first step is always defining the problem.  If we define the problem incorrectly, our solution will either fail or be incomplete.  If we consider the government handouts an issue, then we need to consider what each handout is incentivizing.  In the case of the earned income tax credit, we are incentivizing people to get a job, even if it isn’t a high paying one, we might also be incentivizing under employment for some because it doesn’t pay to get a raise unless it is a big one.

On the other hand, we must also consider human nature and the culture of America.  America is all about success.  The foundation of our country is cultivation of successful individuals, the desire to achieve “success” is ingrained to most who were raised with this as one of their core values.  Because of this, many of the people who are struggling desire to achieve more.  Many would certainly like to feel like they contribute in a meaningful way to our society, not all, but many (it will never be all, ever).

To take this one step further, the strength of our country is its inclusiveness.  We down play differences and provide access to opportunities for all people giving us a much higher probability of seeing individuals achieve success from a wider variety of unexpected beginnings.  If we close the mechanisms that facilitate the access to opportunities for all, we close down the life blood that has built the foundation of greatness in this country.  Our greatness isn’t our wealth, it is our desire, it is our passion, it is our compassion, and it is our inclusiveness.  This is how we will regain our footing in the world, by returning to the values that we once held above all else, gentle strength, compassionate understanding, togetherness, and opportunity for all who choose to go and get it.

~SH

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