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.