Socialism (and why I buy into it)

May 19, 2009 at 9:07 am (Economy, Health Care, Politics) (, , , , , )

I’ve been thinking a lot about politics (in a sort of vague and non-specific way) over the past few days.  One conclusion that I’ve come to as a result of all of this is that I unabashedly believe that government involvement is often the best thing for certain types of things in this country – at least as it exists today.  I wouldn’t call myself a statist, because I don’t believe that government should be huge and controlling for any reason at all.  What I am, ultimately, is a socialist.  I really believe that when it comes to protecting and promoting society’s interests, the government is our best bet.

I probably ought to explain this further (since that’s kind of a loaded statement these days), so here goes.  I have no illusions that the government in the United States is perfect – it’s not.  It makes mistakes, and it runs things badly at times.  But I think that someone would be hard pressed to find a large entity of any sort that isn’t like that.  Bureaucracies are run by humans, and humans are fallible – the goal is to make them as good as possible, but it is impossible to make them perfect.

So the question becomes not, do I want bureaucracy?  Rather, it becomes, which bureaucracy do I want to have control over the most important parts of my life?  It’s rather pointless to argue about whether or not we need bureaucracy in today’s world, because the fact that it’s impossible to go through even half a day without coming into contact with one speaks to the fact that it is necessary.  Our society is too large and too complex to survive without the rules and regulations that make up bureaucratic red tape.  It is frequently annoying, and sometimes unfair, but I don’t think any other system would be an improvement.

So what bureaucracy do I want to control things like the military, or health care, or my money?  Corporations of a size large enough to manage any of that have the same flaws as the government.  But on top of that, they also have profit as their primary motivation, and they are accountable to nobody but their shareholders.  The government, on the other hand, takes profit entirely out of the picture, and it is accountable to everyone who actually votes.

There are certainly government employees who are not elected or appointed, but most of those report directly or indirectly to somebody who is.  Again, it’s not a perfect system, but it’s a lot better than a corporation who doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks as long as its major shareholders are happy and it continues to turn a profit.

One of the most common arguments against a government considered to be socialist is that it redistributes wealth.  Perhaps this may sound a bit flip, but I don’t really see why that’s a bad thing.  Sure, wealthy people earned their money (or someone up the family tree a ways did).  I don’t begrudge them that.  What I begrudge them is the disproportionate amount of power they have in our system.  If they are going to have that much power to influence policy and other things, they really ought to be paying a heck of a lot more into it.  On top of that, they are the ones who benefit most from things like public schools, or the military, or infrastructer.  It is only fair that they should pay a larger share of the cost, since they are getting a larger share of the benefits.

I also think that ultimately, the whole argument boils down to a distinction between what is fair and what is equal.  Those two words don’t mean anywhere close to the same thing.  An equal tax structure would have everyone paying the same percentage of their income; a fair one is graduated so that the people earning the most pay the highest percentage.  The reason why the latter is more fair than the former is that someone who is living paycheck to paycheck spends all or most of their income on necessities; someone who is wealthy doesn’t even spend their entire income.  So taxing everyone at, say, 20% means that the poorest won’t be able to afford all their necessities, and the wealthiest will simply have more money (that they don’t need) to save.

In addition, an equal society wouldn’t be good for other reasons.  In a fair society, everyone would get the same chance at a good education; in an equal society, everyone would need to get exactly the same education.  That basically means that the least capable and the most capable lose out, and everyone gets a sort of middling education.  When it comes to higher education, it is fair to say that everyone who meets certain standards can go if they want (regardless of considerations like class or race); equal would mean they have to accept anyone who applies, even if they fall short of the standards that would allow them to succeed.

Aside from all of that, cutting the poorest (and even the middle class) a break is good for our economy and our society as a whole.  Putting most of the burden of taxation on the non-wealthy means they have less ability to consume (which is necessary for the health of the economy), and it makes it extremely difficult or impossible for anyone to actually have upward mobility.  I don’t think that it fits in very well with our ideology as a country to have solid, stratified classes that have little to no movement between them.  And I also don’t think that even the most opulent spending by the wealthiest Americans could possibly make up for the lack of normal spending by everyone else.

So basically, I am all in favor of a little bit of wealth distribution, and I fully support the idea that the US government should take control of those institutions which are most important to all of us.  I know it may seem easy for me to say I’m in favor of wealth distribution now (when I earn relatively little), but I don’t object to paying taxes.  As long as I have enough money left for me, and the government is being responsible with the money I handed over, I think taxes are a good thing (so phooey on everyone who criticized Joe Biden for saying that paying taxes is patriotic – it is).

And since I can’t figure out how to make this post shorter, congratulations to anyone who actually reads the whole thing!


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*wades back into politics*

May 8, 2009 at 10:52 am (Economy, Politics) (, , , , , , , , )

Okay, I’ve kind of been ignoring the news just lately (which is part of the reason I haven’t been posting).  It’s very hard to read news about financial ruin when your own personal financial situation isn’t especially secure.

However, I think I can stomach it for now, and it’s good to stay informed when possible.

So, how about that stress test?  I will freely admit that I didn’t read the second half of the article, because at some point, financial news makes my eyes cross (and that’s even when the financial news isn’t bad or worrisome).  But I did read Paul Krugman today.  He is, as usual, being a little bit doom-and-gloom, but at least he’s easier to read.

What I find interesting on this topic is that the stress test itself, as Krugman says, tells us very little (and certainly not much that’s actually reassuring).  Where I don’t agree with Krugman is why President Obama is approaching the situation in just this way.  Krugman seems to think that any incentive for changing the financial landscape is fading, and that the Obama Administration is mostly just deciding not to be dramatic here.

But seriously, Obama is Machiavellian.  He is incredibly smart, and able to use that to manipulate situations to fit his desires and goals.  I actually think there’s a very good possibility that he’s going to let all of the banks have a fair shot at getting out of this pickle without major changes precisely because he thinks they won’t be able to do it.  They’ve got less than a month to tell the government how they’re going to raise the extra capital needed to pass the stress test.  So what happens if some or all of them can’t figure out how to do it?  Obama can swoop in and say the government needs to make sweeping changes, because we gave the banks a chance and they couldn’t come up with a solution.

If people complain at that point, Obama can argue that he gave the banks a very fair shot – the estimate of their shortfall in capital was extremely, generously in their favor.  So if they couldn’t even come up with that, then how could they possibly weather the more serious shortfall that many people think is likely?

I hope that’s what he’s doing, anyway.  Otherwise, Paul Krugman’s gloomy outlook is probably right.  I’m just going to hold on to my hope that Obama is smart enough to use momentum he gets for free…but that he’s also charismatic enough to create his own momentum when he needs it.

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Welcome to the real world.

February 5, 2009 at 8:47 am (Politics, This Makes No Sense) (, , )

Okay, I really think this has to be said.

In regards to Obama wanting to cap executive salaries (in companies receiving significant federal money) at $500,000…it’s about damn time.  I’m using stronger language than that in my head, but I’m trying to be decorous here.

For everyone who has been saying for the past decade that CEOs earn way too much, this is fabulous news.  For all that I’m not even 24 yet, I am one of those people.

Seriously, it’s bad enough to have CEOs making close to 400 times as much as the average worker when times are good, and when it is reasonable to argue that the CEO is doing good things for the company overall.  But to try and argue that when the CEO has just laid off half the company and is holding out his hand for a bailout?  Please.  Spare me.

What many people don’t seem to realize is that the only thing Obama is trying to do is introduce reality back into the upper echelons of the corporate world.  In the real world, where the majority of us live, losing a lot of money for your company means that you suffer serious consequences, up to and including losing your job.  I don’t even think it matters if it was your fault – if it’s because of decisions you made, you have to face the consequences.

In CEO la-la-land, losing a lot of money for your company, perhaps even so much that it has to sell off pieces of itself, means you get a raise.  A big one.  Sometimes you even get to sell your company stock before the price per share takes a nosedive.

Reality sure does suck sometimes, doesn’t it?  Now the people at the top have some inkling about how the rest of us have felt for the past 8 years.

So forgive me if I can’t muster a lot of sympathy for people who cry foul when they are offered an income that is 200 times what I make, given to them because they had a direct hand in causing an international economic implosion.  They have made my life, personally and directly, a lot harder.  They didn’t give a flying flip about how their actions affected people like me, so I really don’t see why I should care about them.

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Post-Inaugural Thoughts

January 22, 2009 at 12:00 pm (Politics) (, )

I imagine it was rather surprising that I let the entire subject of the inauguration pass with just a post about fashion.  I know I’m Ms. Politics, but I was frankly rather overwhelmed with it all.  Even now, it still feels incredibly surreal to have President Barack Hussein Obama leading our country, but I imagine it will seem less so as time goes on.

I was actually thinking about the fact that it just doesn’t seem quite real.  I was 15 when George W. Bush was elected.  I’d been marginally aware of the last part of Bill Clinton’s tenure, but not in any really profound way.  The 8 years of the Bush Administration really have marked basically my entire adult life.  It’s no wonder it feels weird to have a different president, even if I am heartily glad to have him.

Either way, as glad as I am to have President Obama sitting in the Oval Office, I’ve got some concerns.  He’s gotten off to an excellent start, in my opinion (overhauled ethics, our plan for the Middle East, and signed a directive today to close Guantánamo – all of these are fabulous).  But I’ve got some concerns about what he intends to do about the economy.

First, as I said in my post earlier, he really needs to nationalize our banking system temporarily.  I’m not entirely sure he’s going to push for it, but I really hope he does.  Some of the alternative plans sound pretty shady to me.  Paul Krugman had an interesting column either this past Monday or Friday on that subject, so I won’t get into it.

Second, he really, really, really needs to hand a giant chunk of change to each and every state.  They are all facing budget crises (and some, like Oregon, were already having trouble balancing the budget before the economy imploded).  If states have to start cutting services and jobs to balance the budget, we will all suffer.  I’m not sure people realize just how many truly vital services are provided (or at least paid for) by state, county, and local governments.  The answer is: nearly all of them.

Third, he needs to initiate an investigation into the Bush Administration.  This probably shouldn’t happen right away, but it should happen soon and it should be a priority.  Even if no indictments follow, we all deserve to know what happened.  There was so much secrecy cloaking the government for the past 8 years that it was impossible for any regular American to know what on earth was going on.  And frankly, if they find any evidence of serious wrongdoing, I hope the prosecute the pants off the perpetrator.  No man, but especially not the president, is above the law.

And finally, I hope that President Obama makes good on his promises about health care.  That’s another one that can and probably should wait until things are a little more stable, but it should still be a priority.  Easing the burden of medical insurance payments would help most Americans enormously, and it would sharply decrease the building up of debt (since a whole lot of people get to the point of bankruptcy because of unexpected and/or uninsurable medical problems).

So that’s my to-do list for Obama (not that he’ll ever see it).  What do you think he should be doing first?

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