Sunday, January 21, 2007

Populism, Progressives, and Poverty

Mike Rosen has an excellent column on the topic. Here are some tidbits that really spoke to me:

This is a major issue for "progressives" (when you hear that word, think "socialists")...

By populism, I mean the exploitation of the uninformed, angry impulses and unfiltered passions of the masses. That anger and resentment has historically been directed at the usual villains and cardboard stereotypes: bankers, insurance companies, "big pharma" (that means drug companies), agri-business, "the military-industrial complex," free trade, free markets and, of course, "the rich." This mentality feeds on conspiracy theories and simplistic fantasies about the way the world works. It seeks to impale the minority of "haves" on the pitchforks of the more numerous "have nots." When you do the political calculus, it can seem like a seductive winning formula for many politicians...

Politicians and the U.S. government have long been in the business of redistributing income through progressive taxation (the top 2 percent of Americans pay two-thirds of all income taxes; the bottom 50 percent pay only 3 percent) on the one hand, and transfer payments to the poor and middle class on the other...

Individual incomes are determined objectively in the marketplace. When politicians or labor unions don't like the results, they meddle in people's lives and businesses in pursuit of power while invoking the name of "social justice," today's name for egalitarianism. Excessive concentration of income and wealth can destroy a society politically. We're nowhere near that point. Excessive redistribution of income and wealth - without regard for talent and productivity - can destroy a society economically. That's the more tangible danger.

Can I get an "Amen!"?


Anonymous said...

No Amens for you.
I posted something (written by someone else) about "executive compensation" and how ordinary people are making less for working harder:

Darren said...

Why do you begrudge people their paycheck? Would you turn that salary down? I wouldn't.

Anonymous said...

I am puzzled by this policy that is based on the politics of envy. I work hard as does my husband. We made hard choices along the way to not buy new cars every two years, to live in a smaller house and to put money away for our kids' college tuition and for retirement. For being this prudent we are labeled as "rich" in the lights of the national colleges' FAFSA form. I don't see how anyone with three kids in college at the same time can be listed as wealthy unless their names are Hilton or they have a family member in the NBA. My kids work hard and make good grades for which they get grudgingly small scholarships and grants. In the meantime, in the interest of diversity and such, their are kids marginally qualified to graduate high school, who get full scholarships and free room and board. Does this make any sense to anyone? And after it's over, my kids will be the conservative voters who work like crazy to stay ahead of the taxman and the kids who are given the world and waste it will be complaining that my kids aren't paying enough. I am tired of subsidizing everyone else's bad choices. If you want to be rich, get educated, get a job and keep it, stay married, defer spending and don't feel obliged to live like Oprah. In fact I think Oprah has a great deal of blame in this whole situation. But that's another story. Amen.

Darren said...

In your next incarnation, EllenK, live like the prodigal son. Then you'll have a nice feast at the scholarship table waiting for you.

You're right, though--our social programs actually work against those who make the best choices for society as a whole! What could be more perverted?

Anonymous said...

"our social programs actually work against those who make the best choices for society as a whole!

Who are you talking about?

The tobacco companies who sell drugs and lie about them to consumers?

The oil companies who promote lies about global warming in order to make short-term profits?

The defense companies who sell arms to whoever will buy them, fomenting wars all over the world, in order to make profits?

Are these the people who "make the best choices for society as a whole"?

Darren said...

Perhaps, Elizabeth, you should read EllenK's comment--I was responding to her.

Additionally, I don't accept your characterizations of corporations. OK, tobacco companies lied when they said nicotine wasn't addictive. Do you think there was anyone--anyone?--who said, "Wow, nicotine isn't additive. Good, now I can start smoking." I'm not going to excuse lying, but I'm not going to allow that lie to be an excuse for people to smoke, either. Individual choices.

Oil companies and global warming--what do you want them to do, produce less oil? I don't. I'm not convinced global warming, if it's real, is man-made, anyway.

Defense companies foment war? Your ideology trumps your reason in this case and the previous one.

You can be anti-corporation, but I wonder if you practice what you preach. Do you drive a car? If so, which corporation was it made by? And what is its fuel source? What is the fuel source for the company from which you buy your electricity? You obviously use a computer; do you use Google at all? or Yahoo? Been to any movies lately?

Anonymous said...

I don't own a car.

I use less electricity than most Americans.

And some people did believe the tobacco companies when they said nicotine wasn't addictive.

Darren said...

I'm not a big fan of having the state save people from themselves. Nanny states aren't for me.

And while people *might* have believed those tobacco companies, again I doubt that anyone started smoking because of those lies.

Jetgirl said...

Elizabeth, I love you. I adore anti-corporation internet posters. I would like to put them all in a glass case and exhibit them as an intallation piece entitled "Hypocricy in Modern America."

That wonder of modern technology you're plinking away in front of, the chair supporting your cloth-clad southern region, the floor upon which it rests, the walls shielding you from the cruel elements: all brought to you by capitalism and corporations.

So rail away, I'll continue to find you a very amusing specimen indeed.

Anonymous said...

First of all, "jetgirl," we don't have any type of pure capitalism in the U.S.

Most economies in the world are "mixed," neither capitalist nor socialist, including the U.S.

The reasons the U.S. has been the major innovator of the world are varied and include our liberal immigration policies (Einstein for example) our large population, our natural resources and our respect for individuality which is partly cultural and partly enforced by the Constitution. These factors have encouraged talented people to move to the U.S. and to use their creative talents.
"Corporations" have little to do with the developments of American technology. Microsoft, for example, became successful by ripping off smaller innovators that came before it. The large corporations are not the innovators. Was Thomas Edison a corporation?

Jetgirl said...

Heh, I've never been put in fear-quotes before. How exciting!

You really should do some research before making assertions. Thomas Edison formed the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company, then later merged several companies into Edison General Electric (later to become the GE we know and love) in 1890.

The way the Edison corporations worked was not by the grace of one innovater, but by a situation similar to Microsoft's today, where a stable of engineers and scientists under intellectual property contracts were paid to invent, the patents for their inventions then being placed and held by Edison. (Very similar to industrial research today.) Nikola Tesla is one of Edison's more famous pet inventors, until lack of recognition and Edison's unwillingness to adopt more efficient innovations to an effort maintain a monopoly on power production drove him away.

Edison was also not at all shy about buying out and aquireing his competators.

Anonymous said...

"Nikola Tesla is one of Edison's more famous pet inventors, until lack of recognition and Edison's unwillingness to adopt more efficient innovations to an effort maintain a monopoly on power production drove him away."

But doesn't that prove my point about corporations?

Darren said...

I don't think it does. One guy who didn't like Edison and went off on his own isn't an indictment against corporations.

Anonymous said...

It contradicts your presentation of Edison as a benevolent lone inventor, distinct from the actions of modern corporations such as Microsoft. It supports my assertion that much of our riches and magic comes from the work of corporations.

Incidentally, after the split, Tesla formed his own corporation: Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing.