Thursday, September 30, 2010

Liberty vs. Equality this sunday sunday SUNDAY!!

Someone left a comment on my last post (yanno.. the one ripping the Tea Party to shreds) that got my brain turning. It referred to this statement: “limiting government intervention is one thing but saying that it's a terrible idea for government to regulate the economy but it's perfectly okay for it to regulate my marriage to another guy is pure hypocrisy.” I believe that the Tea Party should be pro gay marriage if they really believed what they were saying. This person then asked me to flip my argument around: if the government should be allowed to regulate the economy, should it be allowed to regulate marriage? After thinking about it for a bit, I have my answer. And my answer is that I get to have it both ways: a government should regulate economic issues while also pushing social equality. I get to have it both ways because this argument boils down to a very basic discussion within democratic governments that was once heatedly debated: liberty versus equality.

As Americans, we were taught history but we really weren't taught to analyze it well. We know the stories, but we have a really hard time with the concepts behind the stories because we're expected to sit back and coast through life consuming without causing too much trouble. Because of this, people have a really hard time putting their political beliefs in simple terms, but if everyone sat back and thought about this really important distinction between liberty and equality, it may help. I'll start off by defining each concept. Liberty basically means the freedom to do whatever one wants without the fear of government action. See that Roman root in the word? This is why I don't like calling myself a "liberal" --I prefer "progressive" because I like progress and change-- as the basic belief in liberty is freedom from oppression, which I obviously do agree with, but when bastardized, it can mean freedom from government intervention which I think is a terrible idea. We have the "liberties" of freedom of speech and religion and other wonderful ideas because they are enshrined in our Constitution, which is a document soaked in liberty. It tells the government what it cannot do as opposed to what it should be doing, which gives it a healthy dose of wiggle room along with necessary restraint.

Equality, on the other hand, is an idea people talk about on a daily basis. Liberty seems to be something left to the Revolutionaries as some of us has lived with it for centuries. We're used to freedom of speech and religion. Liberty is something so basic to American values that it's rarely talked about. It's the equality that usually alluded our society, and it, of course, means ensuring that everyone has a truly fair shot at life and are given the same protections and opportunities as everyone else. A kid who grows up in our broken cities who attends our broken schools does not receive the same treatment as the kids who attends affluent private schools. They both get the opportunity to go to school which is something many countries can't afford, but we have a long way to go if we pride ourselves on being an equal society. What "equal" means to a lot of people is really different, however, and so are the ways to obtain it.

Now the problem with these two ideas is that they diametrically oppose each other: a society cannot have complete liberty while striving for complete equality because as governments push for extreme equality, freedom tends to decrease. That's called communism, folks, and I'm not advocating for that. If we reverse the equation, though, we see that as people are given more and more freedom to act as they choose, equality tends to decrease. Our current economic situation is a perfect example. We tore out the guts of our regulatory systems which was meant to decrease the amount of "freedom" and risk corporations could take. This encouraged widespread privatization and led to massive increases in wealth for the richest among us. And guess what happened to the gap between the rich and the poor in this country? Or the power and wealth of the middle class? That's right, we've gotten screwed. Take a look at this nice graph because I like when people can see just how bad things have gotten:

This graph was taken from Paul Krugman's blog. The dots track how much the richest .01% of the American population own as a percentage of the total wealth in the country. Look at that spike in the 20's. That was right before the Great Depression and look how much higher the last dot is and that was in 2007! Just this past year, as American households saw their wealth fall by almost 3 percent, the top 400 richest Americans saw their combined wealth increase nearly 10 percent. The 400 richest Americans now own almost 3% of the entire nation's wealth. 400 people! That's smaller than some graduating high school classes! How can anyone think that this situation is perfectly acceptable, let alone sustainable? Never before in American history has the income gap between rich and poor been so wide. If we continue down this road of widespread privatization, deregulation and encouraging profit-at-all-costs through unfettered economic liberty, we can only expect this situation to get worse, most likely at the expense of average Americans.

I believe that a responsible government should be in the business of promoting equality at the expense of some liberties, especially economic ones. It's not healthy for our economy and the graphs and statistics I've used have shown this. I'm willing to give up economic liberty for economic equality, and yes, this benefits me since I'm not likely to be making any crazy economic risks with my no job and no income. But since I've never said the people should be free to do whatever they want, I'm perfectly justifiable and not hypocritical in making this argument.

And guess what? This whole post boils down to a word dirtier in America than the worst swear words combined (I should really create such a word): socialism. The dumbass Tea Partiers hang this word around President Obama's neck like a noose when socialist policies that seek to reduce income inequality in sensible ways would be in their own interest. Like I said earlier, equality taken to the extreme is Communism and while I don't think total Communism has been tried as each form has corrupted the basic ideas of the system, Communism would obviously never work here. But socialist policies do work here and they have in the past. It's unfortunate that the word is seen with such disdain here in the States.

If these Tea Baggers.. damnit, I did it again.. Tea Partiers were led completely by ideology, that's fine. But the sad thing is that these people have gotten suckered into believing that choosing liberty over equality would somehow benefit them. Choosing liberty over equality hurts the average American and only benefits corporate puppet-masters of the Tea Party that exist behind the curtain which features a picture of an elephant ridden by a very white Jesus holding a rifle and a beer.

So back to that person's comment and the beginning of my post. I do get to have it both ways: our government should regulate business to promote equality and our government should stay the fuck out of social issues unless equality is threatened. Wa-BAM, bitches! Simple ideological compass. Sensible policies that promote equality create a healthy middle class and having a robust middle class with the power to continue to support themselves is the only way out of the mess we're in. Once again, it all comes down to choice in November: on one hand, we've got a bunch of morons running around in silly hats brandishing signs that make me embarrassed to have come from the country that educated these people. They tout a bastardized version of liberty. On the other hand, we've got a party who tends to fuck up with governance which has resulted in widespread disappointment. It's led by a President who I truly think gets it and understands that equality and a healthy middle class is the only way out of this. His efforts have just been stymied by these fake liberty loving assholes. I think it's pretty obvious where my vote is going and where yours should go, too. Unless, of course, you're one of the 400 people out of 307 million who have benefitted from dysfunctional economic liberties.


  1. Ed, I was surprised to find an article in response to my comments and I thank you for some insight into your thought process. However, I would like to clear up a few things and I apologize for responding to this article almost 4 months after it was posted. My question to you was actually asking: if the government shouldn’t regulate marriage (gay or hetero) should they regulate the economy? When you first brought my question up in this article you misstated it but you then corrected yourself and certainly explained why you think government should not regulate social issues but should regulate economic ones. To be clear, I fully support the right for gays to marry. They can do what they want and call it what they want. Again, marriage is a religious function and the only reason the government got involved with it in the first place was for “health reasons.” This fact alone makes the act of government involving itself with marriage unconstitutional since it violates the religious aspect of our First Amendment.

    If you look to the Bill of Rights, which is a part of our Constitution and you cite in your article as a “document soaked in liberty,” you can peruse the profound words as much as you want but you will not find the word marriage anywhere. Likewise, you will not find the word economy or a clause designating that Congress regulates it in the Constitution, Bill of Rights or any of the Amendments. Now if I haven’t convinced you that the economy is not under the jurisdiction of the government by this simple fact I will make my argument in more detail. I find it interesting that you use the Constitution to help you argument of gay marriage but refuse to look at the very same text to derive your position on economic issues. You are correct that the Constitution is a bill that tells the government what it cannot do. The Constitution was created to protect our rights and liberties not trample on them or arbitrarily create new ones. Man does not create rights. Rights are “endowed by our Creator.” The Constitution was NOT intended to leave “wiggle room” for politicians to pick and choose what they think is right. The only lawful way the Constitution can be altered to change a current clause/meaning is through the amendment process.

  2. Now, onto the content of my argument:

    While I agree with you that we have “broken cities” and “broken schools” I think we most likely disagree on the cause and the solution. Since the federal government has gotten involved in education in the 1950’s and health care in the 1970’s the costs of both have gone up while the quality has gone down. Americans gave the education system to the government, which delivered a colossal, reductive, stultifying, homogeneous education system costing hundreds of billions of dollars per year, and primarily serving the needs of the bureaucrats who administer it. There is no evidence whatsoever that indicates that government is competent enough to be in charge of any industry let alone the entire economy under the guise of “equality.”

    Furthermore, who is to define “equality?” Your definition and mine are most likely two different things. What knowledge could you or anybody possibly possess that gives them the definitive answer as to what “equality” is or how to obtain it? There is no such being of that magnitude that exists on this earth. I believe F. A. Hayek said it best: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” Attempts at central planning have never worked in history and they never will without undermining both liberty and equality.

  3. Citing the gap between the rich and poor is not a good instrument for backing up a theory of the causes of economic depressions. If the cause of economic depressions, especially the Great Depression, was the unequal distribution of wealth then there would be economic depressions, non-stop, in every country, forever! In practically every country on Earth you’ll find the top 1% of income earners owns 25% (or whatever number you think is unacceptable) of that country’s wealth. Dictators and powerful ruler’s aside, these are the people who actually invest their money into companies and make and innovate many of the products you and I use daily. I think it is safe to say that if you are a janitor at an office building in Buffalo you are going to make multiples and multiples less then the guy who produces farm equipment that makes it possible for millions of people to eat everyday! In 1929, the top 5% of income earners owned 33% of the wealth in America. Throughout history there have been countries whose income distribution has been far greater than that and there was no economic depression. The notion that letting people keep their money is what causes depressions is absurd. So the government must take 75% of rich people’s money in order to prevent depressions? Give me a break!

    In actuality, most economic recessions and depressions are caused by a central bank (e.g. the Federal Reserve) manipulating the interest rate (or Federal Funds Rate) below the market value of interest rates. The Fed lowers the interest rate by basically lending money to member banks, i.e. Open Market Operations. How does the Fed get the money to do this? They simply add zeros onto their ledgers and do the same to the banks they lend to. Could you imagine if your bank just decided to add some zeros on the end of your account and said you had to accept this new money? The Fed participates in legalized counterfeiting. Legal, because the Congress has no authority over it and the Federal Reserve Act says they are the “lender of last resort.” Now banks have more money to lend to individuals and businesses which lowers the interest rate. When that money finally reaches the middle class the market has compensated for the increased money supply and prices rise as a result making the middle class poorer.

    In a sound economy the interest rate is lowered by people saving their money, or in other words deferring consumption now for consumption later. When people save money banks have more to lend so it lowers the interest rate. In the 1920’s consumer prices generally remained level but with all of the innovation and decrease in unemployment one would expect the prices of goods to drop as we find cheaper ways to produce goods. Instead what was happening is the Fed was lowering the interest rate to negate the lowering of prices. For some reason modern economists, such as your beloved Paul Krugman, believe that deflation is decreasing prices and that inflation is “too much money chasing too few goods.” Inflation is actually an increase in the money supply. This is why prices rise as a result of inflation. If you have 100 dollars and I create 100 new dollars out of thin air, like the Federal Reserve, your 100 will be able to purchase 50 dollars worth of goods once the market realizes there is twice as many dollars in the economy. This is what makes the average person poorer not because the rich have stolen all the wealth from the middle class.

    If you truly want greater equality in America (total equality is impossible) the answer is to liberalize the economy and let it make people wealthier by reducing the price of goods. Inventions and innovations, which make it more efficient to produce goods, is what drives costs down and makes the middle class richer in terms of real wages. Striving for total equality takes the incentive out of producing products. You must first produce something of value to consume something of value.

  4. Let me ask you another question. And I'd like you to really think about this one because your argument of "equality" over liberty will crumble if you really take a step back and look at the big picture.

    What type of economic government policy best promotes equality?

    Is it big government spending and borrowing for social programs and public works projects? Or is it limited government which only spends what it takes in as revenues?

    By starving government of money you take away its tyrannical power over the people. Our government was designed to protect individual rights not trample them and intrude and intervene in our lives.

    Take this simple fact:
    From 1790 to 1913 (123 years) - 1913 being the cutoff because of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 - the value of the US dollar rose 8% without the existence of a central bank and with relatively little government intervention into the economy. This means if you put $1 in a bank account in 1790 with no fee and no accrued interest the amount your money would be worth in 1913 would be $1.08. During this time government spent fractions less in terms of GDP than it does now.

    Now let's compare that from 1914 to 2010 (96 years). The value of the US dollar has decreased 95% since the existence of the Federal Reserve. Again, that means that if you put $1 in that same bank account in 1914 and left it there until 2010 your dollar would be worth $0.05. In other words, it would take $22.10 in 2010 to purchase what $1.00 could in 1914.

    Now ask yourself the question: What economic government policy best promotes inequality?

    Without a doubt massive government spending, financed by the Fed and the US Treasury, promotes a gross amount of inequality. So much for a President that "truly gets it."

    The way you make people wealthier is not by increasing minimum wages. It is by allowing the market to work freely. When the market is allowed to freely coordinate production inventions/innovations come out that lower the price of goods. This is how people become more wealthy.

    Think of the great inventions in history: The light bulb, computer, microwave ovens, automobile, airplane, etc. These products have had a far greater impact/improvement on the average person's standard of living than the wealthy. The wealthy can always afford to have things the average person cannot.

    And as for injustices during the industrial revolution and child labor and all those arguments I will say that the major failure of those types of eras was the government NOT protecting individual rights sufficiently. Corporations got away with things because the government did not protect individual rights.

    So you see, I get to "have it both ways." If you promote economic freedom it will improve peoples lives. And if you protect individual rights (i.e. civil liberties) you will prevent people from taking advantage of others.

    You are most certainly NOT a liberal in the classical sense. In history it was progressives who circumvented the Constitution in order to pass legislation for sake of expediency. I don't know about you but I would not want to be associated with that type of history.

    The classical liberal, which is far different from liberals and conservatives today, were the ones who promoted liberty and freedom. Liberals have given the name a negative meaning and conservatives have decided to use a word that suggests the status quo is acceptable.

    I am not a Tea Partier, but at least their ideals for fiscal responsibility promote more freedom, liberty and equality than your half-brained "progressive" ones ever could.