On Wednesday, the GOP pitted conservative darling Paul Ryan against liberal hero Elizabeth Warren, with Ryan serving as a tribune to wealthy Americans and Warren as a populist fighter for working people.
What? You don't want to work?
So it begins, the 2012 battle for the hearts and minds of American voters. But you couldn’t get me to vote for Ryan, or any other Conservative, for simple reasons: they’re clueless. They vow to govern America through the thoroughly disreputable philosophies of the rich and powerful. To wit: We are good for you.
This is no way to run a good nation. This is the way banana republics and cults of personality operate. Organized around a single, selfish group of individuals, the country rises and falls upon the pursuits of the narrowest interests. If your needs aren’t aligned with the rich, that’s too bad for you.
Eliminating the capital gains tax would result in a massive payday for them. And if it puts exactly nothing back in your pocket, that’s too bad. If it slashes government income and results in rollbacks of programs you depend upon, say food stamps for your kids, that’s far worse.
The critical truth about government is this: it has finite resources. What the government gives to one group, it often denies to another. And that’s a reasonable mirror of our own lives. We have limited time, money and energy to devote to any one thing, the government, or society, or our fellow man, included. The government is an agent operating a lot like our ourselves, only benefiting far greater numbers.
Thus, the greatest truth: we are all in this together. So the government question becomes ‘How do we deliver the maximum benefit to all?’ I’ll go with Elizabeth Warren’s answer. The government should create ‘the commons,’ and these should benefit as many people as possible.
Political power distributed through democratic means, fair play business regulations, a productive but un-punishing tax code, a legal system which preserves personal liberty, durable and plentiful infrastructure, the freedom to live as you please — these make for a user-friendly world. This is the Great Western Society.
But each of these features is a limited resource. No matter how much you’d like to, you can’t drive over the same bridge everybody else is already using. If it’s jammed, you’ve got to wait or find another way. You can’t use the same part of the tax code as someone making a tenth of you. Even if a whole bunch of you tried, the codes would catch up with you by resetting against your favor. You can’t all live in the same beautiful neighborhood, you can’t all live in the same house. You can’t yell “Fire” in a crowded club just to demonstrate your First Amendment freedoms.
So the commons, while meant for everybody, are limited resources. Elizabeth Warren:
You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.
Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
Exactly. And this, Warren’s addressing of the essential Paul Ryan ethos — “I use it up, I win” — is where we jump off:
Moderator Ed Fuelner asked Ryan to respond to this argument. Ryan dismissed it as the “fatal conceit of liberalism.”
“Money and wealth made and created in America is the government’s unless they benevolently spend it back to people. It’s the other way around,” Ryan said.
Ryan’s ‘deconstruction’ is a great illustration of how shallow he is. Nobody’s ever argued that the government owns Paul’s wealth, that’s moronic. The argument is that the government provided a great many of the tools Paul used to create his wealth. Those tools take resources to produce and provide, and they don’t belong to Paul. They belong to us all.
If I borrow your lawn mower and mow the neighbor’s lawns at 20 bucks a pop, that may be a good idea. But I, being a reasonable person, would also throw a few bucks back at you for use of the mower. It’s not going to last forever — I haven’t done it any favors. Paul The User says “Screw that practice.” His Randian philosophy says it was brilliant of him to borrow your things, and that’s why he’s keeping every cent. The “Money and wealth made” is all his, regardless of the way he made it.
But you may say, “If the mower’s owner didn’t ask for anything, then that’s tough — forget him.” Fine. You want to talk strictly in terms of agreements? No problem: When you use the commonly owned tools, you enter into Warren’s social contract. You want to start a business by hiring publicly educated employees? You and the government are now partners. Simple enough? We have a meeting of the minds, a quid pro quo. Get ready to pay your taxes.
“No one is suggesting that we don’t need good schools and roads and infrastructure as a basis for a free society and a free enterprise system. But the notion that the nucleus of society is the government and not the individual, the family, the entrepreneur, is to me just completely, inherently backwards.”
More Ryan nonsense. The society is organized around the individual, and that’s fine. But its potential is enormously extended by avoiding anarchy and socializing common activities. Like making money. Paul Ryan wants all the tools and security of a collective but still wishes to extract every ounce and penny out of his efforts without regard to contracts he made with his neighbors. As if he lived first in a civilized place and then in a giant riot. He refuses to see the massive efforts of the people and the government, the centuries of work, that preceded him making his first buck. He is, in two words, a narcissist.
A Tuesday report by the Congressional Budget Office suggests that under conservative policies, wealthy are paying less and getting more while everybody else has stagnated . .
“Let’s not focus on redistribution, let’s focus on upward mobility,” he said. “If these studies are used as justification for erecting new and more barriers for making it harder for people to rise, all that will do is reduce our prosperity in this country.”
See what I mean? Totally self-deluded, clueless. Income taxes, even on middle-income families, are at a 50-year low. But one out of seven Americans qualifies for food stamps, more than 20% of our children live in poverty, 2.5 million more of them slipped into poverty in the last decade. Real wages for working Americans have shrunk over the same period, 74% of us think the nation has “gotten off on the wrong track,” and the august body Paul Ryan represents, Congress, is getting a record-low 9% approval rating. You can see why Conservatives love this guy. You show him a barrio graveyard, he sees Tutankhamen’s tomb. The way the riches stretch out in every direction, it hurts my eyes. Last:
“We’re coming close to a tipping point in America where we might have a net majority of takers versus makers in society and that could become very dangerous if it sets in as a permanent condition . . into a hammock that ends up lulling people into lives of dependency and complacency which drains them of their incentive and the will to make the most of their lives.”
And that’s when Paul worries for America. Not when the rich have decimated us with their narrow-minded, self-serving policies over the last 30 years. Not when they’ve recently triumphed in tweaking the economic commons in such an over-wrought and disastrously fanciful way as to shatter it to pieces, running the country aground. It’s when you people have taken too much. You’re probably on unemployment, taking even more as we speak. Look what you’ve done.