Thursday, July 08, 2004

The point of government, Part II

Well, there is quite a bit to chew on from the comments to the previous post. I invite anyone interested to go back and read those comments as I will now try and address some of the points that were made. And let me add that I greatly appreciate the intellectual weight and civil tone of all of the posts.

First, I’m glad to see that K2 appears to have backed off on his contention that “The whole point of government is not to spend money.” It is, in fact, about little else. Of course, upholding the Constitution is the primary reason for spending all the money. That point was never in dispute. So what politics comes down to is who should be in charge of the pursestrings. K2 thinks it should be the Republicans based on his misperception that Republicans favor smaller government and less spending. However, as we have seen during these past four years, a Republican-controlled Congress and a Republican president have taken a $236 billion federal surplus and turned it into a $400 billion-plus deficit.

I guess I could just declare victory at this point and go home, except that K2 now says the point is irrelevant and goes on to make a number of other assertions that need to be addressed.
The gist of K2’s argument is that government is inherently bad and that taxation and regulation are burdens upon the economy that prevent hardworking Americans from becoming wealthy. He also contends that a vast array of federal programs including Medicare, Social Security, agriculture subsidies, scientific research, USDA meat inspections, protecting the environment and welfare, should be left up to the states and goes so far as to imply that the Constitution requires this. However, if that were the case one would assume that the Supreme Court would have at some point in the past 200 years declared these federal programs unconstitutional. The fact that it has not done so leads me to beleive that K2’s assertion in this case is without foundation.

One area I would like to jump into is this whole notion of pitting capitalism against socialism as if the two were totally incompatible. The reality is that capitalism works best when it is tempered with socialism. The neverending argument comes in determining how much of each is necessary or desirable to achieve the ideal economic formula. K2 gives us the analogy of cattle to a farmer to illustrate his contention that socialism leads to a loss of freedom and ingenuity.

I will put forth a different analogy to make my point. Let us look at the U.S. economy as a car where capitalism is represented by everything that makes that car go - the engine, the drive shaft, the steering column, the brakes and so forth. Socialism is represented by everything that goes into the car to make the ride more comfortable, but is superfluous to making it go. That would be the cushioned seats, the plush interior, the windshield to keep the bugs out of your face, shock absorbers, power steering, power brakes, power windows, power locks, the A/C and heater, the radio and cd player, and on and on....

I think this is a great example of the growth of government and the increasing expectations of the people it serves. How much is too much? When you go to buy a car, what do you expect it to have at a bare minimum? I just bought a new car last year. It was the first car I’ve ever bought that had power locks and power windows. I used to think those were silly extras that I would never need. Now they are practically standard on every car and I personally love the convenience.
The government is the same way. Without some of the social programs in place, capitalism would be a bumpy ride. But too many programs weighs everything down and hinders our forward progress. So we are constantly struggling to come up with the proper balance. When K2 urges the elimination of welfare, ag subsidies, Medicare and Social Security - it’s like trying to sell the American people a car with metal seats and no shock absorbers. They are not going to be happy. They won’t buy the car and they won’t vote for your candidate. That is the reality.

I stand by my assertion that FDR’s New Deal saved capitalism. After the car wreck that was the Great Depression, people weren’t going to buy that kind of jalopy anymore. The government had to change the formula to keep it viable.
K2 argues that our nation’s industrial might helped us to win WWII and not high taxes, but he fails to consider what it was that built up our industries at that point - government spending. When the government comes and tells your company to build as many gadgets as possible and they will buy them all, then of course the business is going to grow. That is exactly what was happening back then. We needed tanks and planes and jeeps and bombs and medical supplies and fuel and all kinds of things and our industrial production blossomed as a result.

I’m not going to get into economic theory and political philosophy. K2 can quote Friedrich Von Hayek and Milton Friedman and I’ll quote John Maynard Keynes and John Kenneth Galbraith but then I don’t know where that would get us.
But I would like to recommend that anyone who is interested in the theory behind welfare check out Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward. The book makes the argument that welfare was put in place not to lift people out of poverty, but to keep them from becoming restless and prone to riots which would be damaging to capitalism. It is quite an interesting read for folks on both sides of the political spectrum.

I will make one last point about bureaucracies which is that they are not exclusive to the public sector. If you have ever worked in or dealt with a large private corporation you will find that bureacracies are inherent in almost any large organization.
I think K2 acknowledged this when he said “I feel that government is inherently flawed, in that it is run by people.” I would just say that in some ways, government bureaucracies are preferable because they at least have an obligation to serve the public. Private bureaucracies have no such obligation and can be a nightmare to deal with.
K2 says he is most concerned about the restrictions on his freedom that government imposes. This is commendable and I believe necessary to have people who will stand up and say ‘enough’ to government expansion (even if they don’t always get their way). But they should understand as well that we would not be any more free without government, in fact, I believe we would be less so. People are always going to try and impose their will upon one another and the government serves to restrict that imposition as much if not more than it facilitates it. I think both Robert and Alan were trying to make similar points along that line.

Finally, as to Robert’s jibe about my having once been a “rabid right-winger,” that is not entirely accurate. While it is true that I was enamored with Ronald Reagan while in college and voted a pretty much straight Republican ticket in 1984, my political views were not fully formed at that time. As my knowledge and understanding of world events grew during that time, my political inclinations leaned left (aided in part by my revulsion of the Iran-Contra scandal). But I think I have always maintained a healthy dose of realism or pragmatism. I’m still ticked at Michael Moore, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jim Hightower and Molly Ivins (to a lesser degree) for supporting that idiot Ralph Nader in 2000 and delivering the White House to GW Bush.
You have to realize that Robert has been living up in Vermont for some time and is under the misperception that he is a moderate because he occasionally disagrees with his socialist congressman Rep. Bernie Sanders.

Oh, and one last word of advice, or rather a request directed to K2... Please, please, please don’t get Robert started on Microsoft!!!! Sheesh!

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