Monday, December 05, 2011

Who to thank

For the second time recently, I have seen a car with a few similar bumper stickers on the back. Something like "Got Medicare? Thank Democrats." "Got Social Security? Thank Democrats" And even "Got Equality? Thank Democrats."

It is easy to see what they mean. They mean legislative votes. They are claiming that it was primarily Democrats who designed and voted for these things - and let us leave that part of the argument aside for the present - and you wouldn't have them otherwise. \

But that leaves out entirely the more important meaning of those words. Do Democrats pay for those programs all by themselves? Certainly not, and they would never claim so. But it is fascinating that the deeper who-to-thank question does not even occur to them. They go through all the trouble and cost of discussing, designing, ordering, and distributing these stickers and no one says "Hey wait. There's a problem here we might not want to be associated with. If you've got Medicare you should really be thanking all Americans, don't you think?"

I find these mental slips enormously revealing. People say what they really mean, often unwittingly, if you let them go on long enough. The implication that the lawmaking part is almost the whole deal, with the money-finding part a rather distant consideration is exactly how they do think about such things. The government action is all, the action of the people nothing. (See especially Al Gore, considering the government permissions to be the key to inventing the internet, and the government mop-up the key to Love Canal.)

I will predict, in fact, that even if confronted with being busted as government centered narcissists they will still not be able to really see what the problem is. They will still see the voting for legislation as not merely one necessary aspect of the thing happening, but almost the entire show. That the blood, toil, tears, and sweat of many others is involved will be regarded as "well yes, technically, but..."

I always thought those "If you can read this, thank a teacher" and similar sentiments were badly overstated and inaccurate. But they are enormously more justified than this new offering from the Strafford County Democrats.


Dubbahdee said...

This is an elegant encapsulation of the "liberal" mindset. It focuses not on propositions, arguments and policies, but on the thought (or lack of thought) that underlies them. Holds it up and makes it easy to examine.

What would be the corollary in conservative thought?

Mr Tall said...

Yes, thanks for this, AVI -- it's an excellent explanation.

I was trying to explain the same principles to my nine-year-old daughter the other day. I fell back on a simple visual illustration: the pie. I can't recall where I came across this -- I claim no originality -- but it's perfect for explaining the liberal mindset.

Liberalism (and crude Marxism, of course) takes the pie (i.e. GDP/a nation's composite productivity) as a given. Government then is wholly responsible for dividing it up, and hence we should 'say thank you' to Democrats who vote to tax and spend. But the pie never changes: higher taxes don't reduce it, and favorable economic conditions don't increase it. You sometimes hear Democrats talk about growing the economy, but they don't make decisions based on creating conditions that might make that possible.

The pie is also useful in seeing how right and left perceive 'fairness'. If the pie is a given, then there's only so much of it to go around, and it's easy to say that someone with a big piece is 'taking more than his fair share'. But if certain individuals can embiggen (to invoke the single most useful neologism from the Simpsons) the pie, then suddenly 'fairness' is a much more complex and nuanced concept.

Speaking of the latter, D's always try to claim sophistication for their views, but in fact they're the ones unable to grasp economic concepts beyond a kindergarten version of 'sharing'.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Dubbahdee: Overestimating how much they have accomplished on their own, with not enough gratitude for those who hold the structure around them together. Conservatives are often pretty good at gratitude to the Founding Fathers, their parents, and the military. When pressed, they can think of others to be grateful to, but I don't think it is uppermost in the mind. They need to be reminded or they start believing that their (often legitimate) hard work and delaying gratification are the only factor in play.

Donna B. said...

The corollary in conservative thought... now that's a really good question.

And the answer to it highlights the differences between social conservatives and fiscal conservatives to some extent, but the reality is highlighted by the little l libertarians.

A libertarian realizes that for capitalism to truly work, government and laws are necessary.

In my version (the only 'right' version, of course) of libertarianism, taxes paid for infrastructure items such as highways, electrical grids, internet, telephone, military protection... all those things necessary to modern commerce are for the common good.

I honestly do not mind paying sales tax (local/state/federal) on gasoline because (for the most part) I think it does go toward building and maintaining the roads I drive on.

I also don't think businesses that use trucks to transport their goods should mind paying an even higher tax for road use. It's not only fair because of the weight of the vehicle, it's also a cost of doing business.

If the roads are bad and I can't visit my distant family, that is not as great a loss as it would be if my employer could not transport his goods because the roads are bad.

I will miss seeing my distant family members, but my immediate family members will not starve if the bad road only keeps me off the roads. If it keeps my employer off the road, my immediate family will starve.

Now... some would say that such a circumstance should result in lower taxes for the employer. I don't.

I think it should result in a higher tax because a commercial use generally results in a profit whereas a personal use generally results in a loss.

Staying with the road use example, some government rules are just silly. My father closed down his business because the county (not the feds) refused to help him fix the road to his business.

Yes, his business involved 80,000 lb trucks coming and going. Each one of those trucks paid quite high fees to the county to be licensed and also paid taxes on miles driven per locality. My father figured those taxes should cover some road repairs. In fact, all he asked for was materials. He proposed to use his equipment and pay for the labor to repair and maintain the road. His equipment and hourly labor had maintained the road for some time. The proverbial straw that broke the camel's back was the request for gravel.

Now there is no business there. Sixteen people are now unemployed. Plus, the county is now faced with the full cost of repairing and maintaining the road for the residents who had also paid taxes to the county for services... including a decent road to their homes.

The bottom line here is a fine line that government must walk. To simplify, government should not kill the capitalistic goose that lays golden eggs for it.

That's the fiscal conservative, small l libertarian, and classical liberal mindset that works.

Often, it works well enough that "progressives" can use it to fund programs not otherwise possible.

Texan99 said...

I can identify the aspect of conservatism that used to put me off before I became one. My impression was that they were blind to stultifying barriers to entry, sort of the "good old boys" club, especially if they'd been obliviously benefiting from it all their lives. Individual responsibility and competition are great things, but so is an effort to quit barring whole classes of people from the starting gates. I also associated conservatives with the casual assumption that nearly the entire burden of child rearing naturally and inevitably falls on the woman. Sometimes "the way we've always done it" could use a fresh look.

Dubbahdee said...

You nailed the conservative corollary as well. This is exactly what drives me up a wall about Tea Partyish rantings.

Now, what about the blind spot of radical centrists like myself? ;-)