Talking Points for One Particular Left-Leaning Liberal

First of all, I guess you could get kind of crazy debating terms like “leftist,” “socialist,” “liberal,” “classical liberal,” and so on. And because of the risk of getting kind of crazy, I have no inclination to debate these terms. Let’s just say I believe in trying to make the world better by supporting things like accessible healthcare, accessible education, public libraries, maintained infrastructure, a habitable planet, and things of that nature. I try not to get freaked out by all the names thrown at people like me, and I try not to waste too much time trying to find the label that best fits.

But anyone would agree that I am not right-wing, conservative, alt-right, or any of that. So I think you’d say I’m on “the left” or “left of center.” What’s more, there are a few things I don’t like about the way other people on the left frame their debates. I wouldn’t dream of telling other people how to describe their own ideas, but I do dream of telling people how I like to describe my ideas, so here you go.

Free stuff—I don’t like all the talk about free stuff, whether it is education, healthcare, fire services, police protection, freeways, libraries, or air. Nothing is free, and we should all be able to agree on that. What I want is an equitable form of cost sharing. We all share the cost so that no one is left out. Why do I want my neighbor’s kids to get a free education, even if I don’t think I benefit directly? Because I want to live in a society where people are educated and empowered to share in the promotion of a functioning society. And I want their education to be useful beyond making them good employees.

Wealth distribution—Let’s face it, wealth is distributed. If wealth is going to exist at all, it will be distributed in some sort of pattern. It is absolutely pointless to say you are opposed to a patterned distribution of wealth. So you’re saying you’re actually just opposed to wealth re-distribution, which you imagine is a very different animal. You just don’t want your hard-earned money taken away through taxes to make someone better off. You can’t imagine that anyone else has done anything to make you better off, because you do not want to imagine that. Unlike some people on the left, I’m not saying rich people shouldn’t exist. I’m only saying that if rich people exist, poor people should not.

Market solutions—Some people anthropomorphize capital markets and claim they can fix all our problems. Sometimes entrepreneurs come up with some pretty good ideas, and that’s fine and dandy, but the people had good ideas, not the markets. Also, no markets are free. All markets are the products of the specific agreements various humans have put in place. Those agreements are constantly in flux and are subject to negotiation. “Free” markets do not exist. You will never find a market running wild in nature. I guess this is as good a place as any to say that I see no reason to completely eliminate private health insurance companies. It is only necessary to ensure that no one needs private health insurance.

Rights—to say everyone has a right to free speech is only to say I think society functions better when the government does not restrict speech in most cases. While some people believe “rights” come from God or nature or someplace else, you don’t have to believe that to use the word. It may annoy philosophers and political scientists, but a right is something someone thinks people should have. A “legal right” or “guaranteed right” is just something that was popular enough with people to be written in to law. Of course, it’s your right to believe whatever you want.

You might be thinking I should have some sort of summary conclusion or something, but I can assure you that I do not, so that’s that.

The Kids are Proper Communists (#poem)

(Note: This poem is about the younger generation in general and not about specific individuals.)

I’ve always supported freedom and equalityScreenshot 2019-02-18 at 09.28.18

I wanted minorities to have equal opportunity.

I believed in promoting a liberal social order,

Showing non-aggression and peace at the border.

I wanted to teach the world to live in perfect harmony,

So that our new Utopia would all be down to me,

But my kids are proper communists,

They want to overthrow the state.

They will give everyone what they need,

And take whatever the wealthy can pay.

Workers will take the means of production,

And profit will be a thing of the past.

Even if there’s no greed reduction,

The billionaire power will never last.

They’ve declared private property a lie,

And reliance on investment income will die.

The worker and his value no longer alienated.

The greed of the bourgeoisie no longer sated.

My kids are proper communists,

Syndicalism will arrive any day.

My kids are proper communists.

You better get the hell out of the way.

Politifact, Obama, and Tax Plans

Mitt Romney has repeatedly said that several studies prove his tax plan is possible without tax increases on the middle class. President Obama claims that even these “studies” show that middle-class tax increases would be required to make the plan work. The studies (or analyses) in question are those by Harvey Rosen and Martin Feldstein. Politifact rated the president’s claim “mostly false.” This is just one more egregious rating from Politifact.

The president has said that making the plan work would require either raising taxes on the middle class or eliminating popular deductions such as the home mortgage deduction. In supporting their “mostly false” rating, Politifact said, “Rosen found that when a wide array of tax breaks are eliminated — from home mortgages to charitable giving to health insurance benefits — and projected economic growth rates are factored in that the increased revenues can balance out the money lost through tax rate cuts for high-income taxpayers.” These are, of course, exactly the middle-class deductions the president was referring to. Eliminating these deductions will, of course, increase the taxes middle-class families pay.

As for the Feldstein claim, Politifact quotes Feldstein as saying he did not separate data on the income earners to which President Obama referred, so it is impossible to say whether Obama’s statement is true or false. But please note, it is possible to say that Romney’s claim that the study proves his plan is possible without increasing taxes on the middle class is possible to evaluate. It is false. Feldstein says his claim was that Romney’s plan was possible without raising taxes on families earning less than $100,000/year. As Josh Barro pointed out, “Feldstein allows for tax increases on people making more than $100,000. But on Sept. 14, Romney told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he would hold people making less than $200,000 or $250,000 harmless from tax increases.” Feldstein certainly doesn’t claim that Romney’s plan is viable without eliminating the deductions President Obama says will need to be eliminated, and he does not claim it would not require tax increases on those making $100,000 to $250,000, which is Romney’s definition of middle class.

The high cost of low taxes

No one likes paying taxes, and I’m no exception. I’m far from being in the top one percent of earners, but I’ve also had to pay federal, state, and local taxes all my life.

Anyway, I’d prefer to keep my money and spend it on other things. Some costs, however, are best to be borne by the public rather than by individuals. The move to lower taxes is not about reducing what we pay for services. Rather, it is about a shift from public payments to privatization. When the government does not fund basic services, the services are then provided by businesses for profit. This means the burden of payment for necessary services shift to the less wealthy while control and profits shift to the wealthy.

For example, roads benefit all of us. The alternative to having the government spend money on roads is to let private firms build the roads and charge whatever costs the public can bear. I do not happen to think this is the best way to build a modern, efficient, and functioning society. Our country needs a mobile workforce. Denying citizens this mobility is to deny what I view as a basic human freedom: the ability to move and seek better opportunities and living conditions. While I agree that people who build roads should be paid for the effort, I do not believe the construction and maintenance of roads should be driven purely by considerations for profit. When we don’t pay for roads through taxes, we pay for them through tolls.

Nor do I think education should be operated for this reason. As school funding is cut, schools must turn to corporations for sponsorship. School lunches are provided by the big food industry, and the logos of major industrial players abound in the school lunchroom.  When asked to provide more healthful alternatives, the industry lobbies our government to circumvent regulations by declaring that the tomato sauce on a pizza is a vegetable. Further, education materials, from textbooks to video lessons, are prepared by corporations and include advertising and other forms of blatant indoctrination.

And when universities lose government funding, they also seek corporate sponsorship for their research, faculty positions, and buildings. Rather than providing a forum for intellectual discovery and exchange, universities become the mechanism for generating increased profits. This means scientific research is aimed only at supporting industry and basic research is stifled. Fields that are not seen as contributing to “the economy” are constantly under attack. The arts and humanities must constantly fight to survive and themselves must rely on corporate donors to stay afloat.

A vibrant and thriving society, however, needs free intellectual and artistic expression. Relying on corporate donors suppresses dissent or even basic disagreement. This impedes intellectual progress and, more importantly, moral progress.  Of course, the higher tuition fees that result also limit educational opportunity for most of us. Higher tuition and reduced financial aid mean more students graduate heavily in debt.

It is appropriate that some health care be provided for profit and that only those willing and able to pay for it should receive it, and this is the situation even in countries that have “socialized medicine.” A health care system that is entirely privatized however creates two contradictory and unworkable conditions: 1. Health care providers make the most profit by providing unnecessary tests and treatments. 2. Insurance companies make the most profit by denying access to as much care, necessary or not, as possible. Basic health care does the most to improve life quality for a society, but it is the least profitable care to provide. Public funding for access to basic healthcare ensures that everyone has a better chance to live and be productive.

Prisons are necessary in any civil society, but prisons are increasingly built and operated by for-profit companies. Some people need to be removed from society, but it is best that no one profit by increasing the number of people incarcerated. Incarcerating people should be something we do only when no other alternative is available, and it should create a burden for all, not an opportunity for profit.

When taxes are lowered, and public spending is reduced, these basic services do not become free. On the contrary, we pay more for them (unless you are a person who makes enormous profits from them). For most of us, lowering taxes too much limits our freedom and increases our financial burden for obtaining basic services. Certainly, wasteful government spending should be eliminated and taxes should be reduced when appropriate, but public funding for basic services is essential. The United States is currently experiencing a massive move toward privatization, which is hurting our mobility, education, and health. It is also resulting in a growing prison population that is inconsistent with a just society.