When I arrived home for school, I ran straight for the cookie jar. There were just two pinwheel cookies left, and I was very hungry. My brother had not come home yet, and my mother was upstairs. So, I reached in and grabbed the two cookies, my favorites, dropped my books, and opened the ice box to fetch some milk. I poured a glass of milk and sat down for a snack.
I didn’t think about my brother, nor care if he were hungry. I was the first home, and nobody was around telling me to share. Perhaps no one knew there were just two cookies waiting to be eaten. I was later admonished that I should have waited to eat, and offered to share my prize with my brother. Despite what my mother tried to teach us, I learned everywhere else in my life: “To the victors go the spoils.”
It’s a jungle out there: sophisticated, complicated, and densely populated with the overgrowth of intertwined ideas and unproven, false beliefs. Since most of us feel that we lack talent, physical strength and dexterity, an indomitable personality, and a genius intellect, we are prone to accept the postulate that the weak should be helped by the strong.
Americans are taught that we should care for the “disadvantaged or handicapped folks,” and above all “be our brother’s keeper.” To accept that obligation is fine if you have an abundance of food and clothes to share and enough money to replace what you give away.
The two factors that weigh heavily in the determination of equality are opportunity and power. No one can possibly believe that all creatures of a species were born equal, but we can imagine that this natural inequality can be remedied. If opportunity for the stronger member of a group is somehow restricted, the weaker member can have a boost toward achieving what he or she could not without some help. Giving the weaker ones a handicap would tend to smooth out the natural imbalance and offer them a chance to have the things the stronger would naturally obtain without much trouble.
When our country was formed, the Founding Fathers tried to fix the opportunity issue, by stating that we all should have the freedom to pursue our own happiness. This was sweet sounding rhetoric, easy on the ears, but impossible to legislate. The birth of liberalism germinated from the democratic idea that each citizen had an equal right to share in the spoils of our nation’s achievements and wealth. Of course that presumed that each citizen had the required talents, the work ethic, the intelligence, and the perseverance to take on the struggle to advance him or herself. Yes, those Framers of our Constitution started out to provide us with some equality of opportunity, but they left out women, slaves, and non-citizens.
For the white male in this country, there was supposed to be a level playing field, provided that his parents bequeathed him with talent, land, or money. However, that playing field was never really level because of education, the difference in the productivity of the land, and the unequal distribution of inherited wealth.
Darwin’s theory that the fittest humans would naturally survive was not yet popular. Later, when most of us thought that we had achieved one man, one vote equality, we forgot the inherent electoral college voting system for president and our ineptitude of registering voters and counting votes. Technology may assist us in solving these latter problems, but not everyone today can handle modern technology.
One hundred years after the struggle to restrict monopolies, we have seen the fastest movement to consolidate our corporations ever experienced. The unwritten law espoused by the General Electric Company when I worked there is that you must be first or second in the market, or you won’t be able to survive. Then, you will have the economic opportunity and power to command a generous credit rating to enable you to merge into an even greater conglomerate. This conglomerate will be able to acquire companies outside its basic industry and hedge its longevity. All the time putting more assets under the control of a fewer number of corporations. And these multinational corporations ended up in the hands of a few uncontrolled power brokers who weren’t strictly scrutinized.
Enter the liberal movement? No, their leaders are equally beholden to the corporate contributors who ultimately finance the political campaigns as are the conservative politicians. Our liberally oriented political leaders may rant or rave about inequality, but as our most recent experience has shown, leaders are more interested in themselves, their continued exercise of power, and their future command of income.
As our presidents have often demonstrated, political leaders are not bound to take care of the numerous brothers and sisters who voted for them, but the unseen wealthy who paid for their election campaigns. I know these complaints may sound “liberal,” but the truth cannot be ignored. “Poor us,” many Americans think to themselves. But that is the role God gave most of us, as Jesus noted: “Ye have the poor always with you.” (Matthew 26, verse 11.)
I’m sure that all politicians placed in front of their constituents would say that they want the best for everyone and assistance for the underprivileged, disabled, handicapped, and unemployed. So, skip this nonsense and cut to the details of why helping them is so impossible to achieve. Our individual leaders really have only some relative power and some limited opportunity. And most importantly, they have insufficient financial resources to wage a political campaign every two, four, or six years! Resources of individual talent don’t count anymore, just those financial resources necessary to mount an expensive advertising campaign blitz.
You would think that past experience is important, that sound ideas about what legislation is necessary would help, and that a warm personality to sell these ideas should be enough to get elected. But not today. More important is creating an image, and that is done by buying people, advertising space, and political group support. This takes money in exchange for promises that legislation will be enacted that produces money, and promises that groups of constituents will not be forgotten in battles over taxes (sounds like money again.) Money is political power in the “free” enterprise system: “You can’t go anywhere without it!”
If you have money or the control over creating it via the banking system, the stock market, or by trading/selling assets/inventions of unknown value, you have a chance: the opportunity. I had the opportunity to grab the cookies, because I arrived home first. I had the power to do as I chose in that instance. The punishment, if any, would come later, and my selfishness might never be discovered. What was obvious at the time was the benefit I reaped: my aggressiveness was rewarded! That’s similar to unregulated free enterprise and deregulated monopolies in action.
But first we should redefine monopolies. Legally, they can’t exist if they restrain trade, but most companies obviously do. Think about how many gasoline stations there used to be for filling up your tank. How many have disappeared? How many brand names have vanished? How few are available today? How much variance is there in the price you pay at the pump? Doesn’t the amount per gallon charged go up and down at the same time at all locations? There are very slight price variations, and price movements are almost simultaneous.
Sounds like the work of monopolies to me. A few competitors in an industry used to be called an oligopoly, but that is considered healthy today and the only viable solution in competitive markets. Whatever the dominant group of companies are called in economics class isn’t important, it’s how these businesses are operated within the government’s watchful eye.
Here’s the rub, of course. The government isn’t going to be very watchful of those friends who contribute heavily to the campaigns of the elected. In spite of what these honest seekers of justice claim, they are too busy to be watchdogs. Therefore, they create watchdog commissions.
Certainly, if a problem becomes so immense that it cannot be “managed,” as the power supply business had become in California, political attention will finally be brought to bear on the issue. The appointed watchdogs will be banished or reshuffled, and the “surprised” legislators and elected executives will hold their breathe until the next election hoping that the exposed mess will be forgotten. Meanwhile, the “poor” will suffer and pay! Because who else pays?
Popular liberals will demand that the mess be cleaned up. They will vociferously defend the rights of the poor, the weak, the abused using the most severe rhetoric. And when the whole thing blows over, they will be out looking for donations for the next campaign. Meanwhile, some gross abuse like the Microsoft arrogance will be exposed, and the judicial branch will render some slap on the wrist described as due process and appropriate economic punishment. Then, we’ll still have the choice of buying either a Mac or a Microsoft product. Not quite a monopoly, right?
In our democracy the game is to appear liberal, but act in your own best interests. Charge what the traffic will bear, and contribute to your favorite charity, congressperson, and political party. It’s much simpler to talk than walk.
How can anyone justify how much “progressiveness” the income tax should have? How much of a tax reduction should be given to whom? Any criteria is purely subjective and selfishly adopted. The result is merely something negotiated relative to a prior amount. It ignores the almost unbearable regressiveness of social security taxation as liberals will be first to point out. And when things become subjective, power and opportunity dictate! Can’t relinquish either one of them. Besides, the amount of pensions paid out of the Social Security fund will hardly pay the rent when you are 65! Who cares about seniors? Only the AARP.
Which brings me to redefine the split between political constituencies. We truly aren’t liberal and conservative. We are politicians and voters (at least the 50% of us who usually go to the polls in my state.) We may want our brothers and sisters to suffer less, pay their fair share, split with us the limited benefits, but only after we our interests are “taken care of.” And forget those poor suffering refugees overseas, and the untold number of exploited and abused humans all over the world. Why aren’t our liberal-minded leaders more concerned about them?
We have argued about paying our dues to the U.N. We can’t control the conditions in the factories in foreign countries. We subsidize our production and exportation of food. We don’t really think globally, except now and then when we realize the Third World can’t pay their foreign debt. Then, after we forgive some countries, we saddle them with credit limitations they can’t meet. But you can’t put a poor country in a debtor prison, so what are our options?
I see only one, paying close attention to what’s going on everywhere. Honesty with the facts, and promptness in exposing them. (That’s a lot to ask from the media, I’m afraid.) Not just a casual, distant preoccupation with the movers and shakers who warrant our guided (by unseen editors) attention. We need more whistle blowers, appalled vigilantes, and the little people close to the action who actually know what’s happening.
More instant replays of government fumbles, more publication of earmarks and amendments added at midnight, and more awareness of back room plea bargains with the referees. Not knuckle rapping fines meted out to multi-millionaire athletes and huge corporation bosses which will be covered by next year’s income.
Such compassion as I am recommending knows no self-interested polarity. It cares less for the category description and attitude. It has a Socratic integrity to find the facts and expose the truth, hoping that the consensus of virtuous citizens will pursue justice and fairness afterwards. Which doesn’t promise equality, necessarily. We know that we can’t establish true equality. As George Orwell’s Animal Farm proclaims: some of us will always be more equal than others! The politicians.