I picked up Steve Forbes’ Freedom Manifesto in the library today, figuring I would dusagree with at least some of it. In that respect I wasn’t disappointed. What I’m getting REALLY tired of is the stereotypes and false dualisms that pass for political discussion these days. I’ve read little beyond the introduction so far, but there are already a whole list of things obviously slanted.
Here are a whole series of Is It Fair Questions: “Is it fair… that taxpaying citizens, struggling to stay afloat, are forced to pay higher prices for gasoline, electricity and food because of politically driven Big Government policies–from bans on energy production and development to monetary policies that dilute the value of the dollar? Or that they have to pay for lavish salaries and pensions for government workers who retire in their fifties?”
Let’s answer this one by asking if it’s fair that we’re runing out of petroleum, coal and nautural gas? That isn’t a question of fairness, but a fact. You may or may not believe in global warming; you don’t have to in order to be aware of pollution and its detrimental effect on human beings. Which is why we need to develop clean energy instead of sticking with old-fashioned energy sources, important as they may be in the short run. And is paying the pensions of government workers worse than paying CEOs of big companies hugely inflated salaries? Not in my opinion. If Mr. Forbes would like his salary lowered, that would be perfectly fine with me.
“Is it fair that politically appointed bureaucrats in an unaccountable federal agency can attempt to stop airline manufacturer Boenig from opening a new plant that would create desperately needed jobs in South Carolina?” Is it fair for Boeing to take jobs away from people in Washington state? That makes capitalism look like a zero-sum game. Boeing may not like unions (the ostensible reason for the move to South Carolina), but why should anyone like unaccountable overpaid CEOs?
The next question is whether it’s fair that the only solution to the budget problems for liberals is taxing the wealthy? Thanks to conservatives, that’s not the only suggestion out there. Conservatives like to focus on cutting the safety net (which wouldn’t adversely affect most of them) instead of the bloated military. Is it fair for conservatives to insist on cutting only the spending THEY don’t like? If they were serious, wouldn’t they want to cut spending across the board?
Then there’s the question of taxes, which almost 50% of the country doesn’t pay. Answer this one with, is it fair that capitalists export jobs, don’t create well-paid ones, then blame the people who DON’T create jobs for being unable to pay taxes?
Then the debt, which is all Big Government’s fault. We can get a bit more specific than that. There was a president who started two wars without raising taxes to pay for them, and borrowing the money from China. That the current president has continued those policies (he HAS tried to finally stop the wars) isn’t to his credit.
Then Forbes speaks of how Steve Jobs captured the American imagination. Certainly Jobs had an inspiring story, and accomplished a great deal. One thing Forbes doesn’t mention, though, are the Apple plants in China, where workers were forced to live in dormitories, work overly long hours doing repetitive motions that caused many to lose the use of their hands, and where suicide rates are or were high. Is that the sort of envirionment anyone wants to work in? As Forbes admists, Jobs wasn’t perfect; it’s interesting that the factories in China closely resemble Karl Marx’s predictions of how capitalists would behave. Granted, he generated jobs, and without government stimulus money. But what kind of jobs? And where?
Forbes mentions the “stagflation” of the 1970s and attributes it to Big Governemt. Really? Rising oil prices had nothing to do with it?
Then he says Ronald Reagan “unleashed” the economy. For whom? Ordinary Americans have seen their wages go down ever since Reagan, so they find it harder and harder to get by. Is THAT fair?
So okay, Big Government can be, and often is bad. Does that make business automatically good? I recall a conversation I had with someone decades ago, when he was telling me about a big business that wasn’t too good on customer service (which Forbes says is the advantage of the private sector over the government). The point I took away from that was that the company he mentioned had the resources to give good service, but didn’t. That, I think was because it was a BIG business. Big is big and big is powerful, and those who accumulate power don’t have to be accountable or pay any attention to what others want, whether it’s big business or big government. It sure would be nice if either government or business was automatically good, but it’s not that simple, and anyone who tries to tell you different either doesn’t have your best interests at heart or is simple-minded.
Let’s grant the proposition that too much government is bad. So is too little. World War I destroyed the Czarist government, which led to the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian Civil War. The post-war German government wasn’t strong enough to keep the Nazis out of power, and the Chinese government of the same period eventually succumbed to the Communists. Too little government led to too much.
The same can be said of regulation, which, as Forbes says, can also be overdone. Let’s consider the Glass-Steagall bill which was passed during the Great Depression, and was supposed to stop irresponsible speculation. That bill was repealed in the late 90’s (under Bill Clinton–Republicans aren’t the only villains here), and it took no more than ten years for irresponsible speculation to almost destroy the economy. No doubt Forbes will blame the speculation on the government too, which he blames for the stimulus packages not working. Let’s notice that only the people who sold the mortgages in the housing bubble got bailed out (and not all of them), while those who bought them DIDN’T get bailed out. Was THAT fair?
The fact is that people generally prefer not to regulate THEMSELVES. Government and private sector alike take advantage. Few are wholly right or wholly wrong. All of us are imperfect. Were this not the case, we could live as anarchists without any government whatever, and everyone would be happy. As the 20th century shows, when there’s not enough governmental control, there’s violence, and warlords and private armies. “Drowning the government in the bathtub”, as Grover Norquist (I think it was) put it, can bring those days back again. I’m sure Norquist will be glad to provide them for you if you really want them.
So in any nation there has to be a balancing act between too little government and too much. Freedom is an ideal in this country, but freedom leads to bad things as well as good. We want law to prevent murder and theft, among other things, but it never entirely does. Capitalism ideally provides creativity in new and useful products, but that’s not the only place it’s creative. It also very creatively sells people things they don’t need, and which are bad for them, and finds ways to steal from lots of people. Not so different from corrupt government.
It’s not that what Forbes says is entirely wrong, but it IS slanted. Governments aren’t the only people who use propaganda. What do you think commercials are? Ideally they would only be making people aware of things that might be useful to them. In practice, it’s telling people to buy OUR product because THEIR product is illegal, immoral and fattening. Again, not so different from government. And I haven’t gotten much further than the introduction in this book. Maybe I’ll write more about it later.