Monday, May 28, 2012

How Would I Run the Country? (Part Two)

In my last post, I laid out my views on justice and the law. Now let's go with money, finance, and economics:
  1. Raise taxes and moderate spending. There's one caveat here in that, like the Keynesian I am, I'd use the current downturn for infrastructure spending as stimulus. I'd also funnel more money to the states to make up for the catastrophic reduction of services on the state and local level, such as in education and health. Contrary to conservative views -- which are largely fantastical constructs such as the theory of expansionary austerity ("tax cuts lead to increased revenues") that have no actual basis in reality -- the way to grow revenues is to spur growth through government spending on things of intrinsic value, which will lead to higher GDP and actual increased revenues through increased personal and business income. There is no mystery about this.
  2. Reduce government spending in the long term to get deficits under control. There is no mystery here, either. The vast majority of academic economists and federal and state agencies like the Congressional Budget Office agree on this. The only economists that disagree appear to be reading from a talking-points script or work for "think tanks" bought and paid for by rich people with political agendas associated with reducing taxes on the rich and cutting services for the poor.
  3. Maintain and expand programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid: And stop calling these "entitlements." They're not. Social Security is a program paid for by its recipients, as subsequent generations pay for the previous ones, who paid into the system during their productive years, etc. If the formula is insufficient for future outflows, repair it by tweaking the current inflows. If current contributions are insufficient, it's undoubtedly because more of the national income is captured by rich people, who are sheltered from much of the contribution they make. Raise the contribution level and use a surcharge on the filthy rich to fund the program forever. Even the rich will benefit by this, in that guaranteed incomes for retired people stimulate increased consumer spending and higher tax revenues, etc. & etc. As for Medicare, its problems are related to the inability to control healthcare costs, though increases in Medicare taxes can help. As for Medicaid, spending on it will go down if we institute a national healthcare system, whether it be the modest Obamacare programs or an even smarter, more effective system like all the other advanced nations of the world have adopted except ours. In any event, lack of healthcare services for the working poor is one of the biggest drains on productivity this nation suffers from. It's idiotic not to grasp this.
  4. Slowly, over time, cut defense spending dramatically. Of course, if we reduce defense spending too quickly, it will have a deleterious effect on overall GDP, but if we reduce it slowly we can use this reduction in spending to alleviate our long-term budget deficits. We can be ready to defend ourselves without giving in to the urge to attack any nation we feel like on a whim. Rely on diplomacy for more of our international relations. Libya is a good example of a combination of a limited military role -- with real allies -- and diplomacy to create a reasonable outcome without lengthy entanglements. Money saved from defense is better used on other, more healthy aspects of society, such as education, health, and research, or reducing deficits.
  5. Stop listening to the zombie lies that have been the stock in trade of the conservative movement. This is not an ad hominem attack. The right, beginning with Ronald Reagan's famous "the government is not the solution, the government is the problem" declaration, has maintained its mantra against government for more than thirty years, all the while driving up deficits as much or more than liberals. The real damage of the drumbeat has been evident in recent years, as the Tea Party and what's left of the Republican Party that spawned it have forgotten what a government of the people, for the people, and by the people is supposed to be doing, and that's helping its people with services and public goods. The failure to collect adequate tax revenues while failing to curb spending (yes, in spite of the zombie lies, Republicans spend as much or more on government than Democrats) has decimated the quality of life for our entire nation. It's evident everywhere.
  6. Evaluate spending on what it delivers, not just with knee-jerk opposition based on ideology. We can create new programs that cost money as long as we see value from the spending. To simply say, "Government programs are always inferior to the private sector" or "time to pay the tab" or "It's our money, not the government's" isn't helpful. The whole purpose of government is to serve the people. If it doesn't, it's the people's fault. The people are the government.
  7. Curb the influence of the wealthy in defining the role and scope of government. Once again, if you are deeply suspicious of government serving the interests of the elite, do something positive to stop it, like joining protest movements, boycotts, facebook and Twitter campaigns, and voting with your feet. Think Bank of America is too big? Don't access any of their products.
Once again, I could go on, but you know where I'm coming from. I believe in government spending on public goods and services, and I believe the government plays a vital role in the lives of its people, on every level from federal to state to local. I believe the people should constantly educate themselves on issues and bring pressure to bear on all elected officials to do the people's will. And I believe the people's will should be more community-oriented than individual-oriented. We're better working together to solve problems than we are when we work apart.

Finally, I can't help but tell everyone to stop misunderstanding the word "socialism." It got a bad rap during the fifties and sixties when it was conflated with "communism." Both are words that describe types of political economies. "Communism" as a word was destroyed by the totalitarian governments that ruled under the guise of a communist society. The Soviet Union, "Red" China, and North Korea were never actually communist societies. If they were, they would have had to be democratic ones.

By reminding people of that, I'm not advocating communism. I believe that we're not mature enough as humans to live such an idealistic way of life as is required of true communist political entities. So it's not so much of a bankrupt ideology as an impractical one.

Socialism, on the other hand, is different. Socialism is defined as "a social and economic doctrine that calls for public rather than private ownership or control of property and natural resources." If you think for a minute, all government activity, which is carried out as instructed by the people's will, is by its very nature socialistic, just as free enterprise is by its very nature a capitalistic undertaking. An advanced social democracy -- as I plainly advocate -- can and does incorporate the best of both systems, with many government enterprises organized strictly as public enterprises for the good of the general public, and many private enterprises organized for the good of the individual in the form of profit, with regulation being a natural component in order to guarantee that greed and parsimony doesn't overtake its value to both society and the individuals of which it is made.

Anyone who seriously believes that a society can exist successfully for any length of time without regulation of private markets and without the support of public enterprises obviously hasn't been living in and observing the nature of the social and political entities of the world in which we live.

Yes, I advocate a form of social democracy, which is, by the way, not simply a European system. The advanced free nations of Asia, such as South Korea and Japan, are such systems. In fact, they are more socialistic than many of the nations of Europe. Why? Because they are socially driven societies. They know very well that communities, whether towns or nations, can only succeed to the extent that all members of the community succeed. It's true there, it's true in Europe, and it should be here in the U.S.

Give it some thought.

Addendum. I happened on The American Conservative website and discovered a blog post entitled "Liberalism Means Discrimination." I pretty quickly realized that the author was either academically isolated -- discussing a concept outside of its actual place in space and time -- or playing rhetorical games. The former is the more generous view.

In any event, the author was speaking not of modern liberalism (which Wikipedia defines as interchangeable with social liberalism) but of classical liberalism, a 19th-century tradition that is best understood in today's terms as libertarianism, which is quite dissimilar from modern liberalism, obviously.

The author quoted Spinoza's Critique of Religion by Leo Strauss, an intellectual darling of the right:
[Classical] Liberalism stands or falls by the distinction between state and society, or by the recognition of a private sphere, protected by the law but impervious to the law, with the understanding that, above all, religion as particular religion belongs to the private sphere. Just as certainly as the [classical] liberal state will not “discriminate” against its Jewish citizens, so it is constitutionally unable and even unwilling to prevent “discrimination” against Jews by individuals or groups. To recognize a private sphere in the sense indicated means to permit private “discrimination,” to protect it and thus in fact to foster it.
I added the "classical" to remind you that Strauss is referring to something more akin to libertarianism. My takeaway from this passage is an insight that, in today's terms, libertarianism does indeed foster discrimination because it despises regulation, even social regulation such as civil rights laws. I had only grasped libertarianism's -- and hence current conservatism's -- revulsion for economic regulation; it never occurred to me that the ideology stands against any regulation, including civil rights.

Obviously, I stand against such notions. Strauss came to the conclusion that men were not going to evolve morally, as Hume and Kant speculated, and that tradition -- the necessary means by which such moral evolution might take place -- was antithetical to reason and universality. When Shadia Drury criticized Strauss as claiming that "perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what's good for them," we can see why neoconservatives, who might rather apply this dictum to foreign countries we might want to shape in our image through force than to our own country, might also revere Strauss as one of the father's of neoconservatism.

Any way you slice it, I don't like it and feel that Strauss' notions reek a bit too much of fascism, as I've felt about neoconservatism all along.

All this discussion, as interesting as it was to me, really only had the effect of making me want to clarify what my political philosophy is, and that the term social liberalism is much closer to what I adhere to than socialism. From now on, I'll speak of myself as a social liberal, which hopefully will prevent those of another persuasion from lumping me with the communists.

In the next post, I'll speak to my views on social justice.

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