Friday, October 14, 2011

The liberal I wish I was

I read this on Daily Kos the other day, and I can't get it out of my head.

The person I hope to become when I grow up does not greet political arguments with ire or emotional responses. She greets them with facts and counterarguments that hold in the starting domain of the person arguing with me. She seeks to find common ground with the arguer, and attempts to find who is correct.

Correct is a muddier issue when dealing with political arguments, but for now, I use the definition that if a person starts with a set of axioms, and then is consistent within those axioms (even when it works against their own interests), then conclusions that can be drawn from those axioms are, in some sense, correct.

This response to a 53%er does that. And it reminds me why I am a liberal.

The letter in response to the following:
I am a former Marine.
I work two jobs.
I don’t have health insurance.
I worked 60-70 hours a week for 8 years to pay my way through college.
I haven’t had 4 consecutive days off in over 4 years.
But I don’t blame Wall Street.
Suck it up you whiners.
I am the 53%.
God bless the USA!
 The responder writes:

Look, you’re a tough kid.  And you have a right to be proud of that.  But not everybody is as tough as you, or as strong, or as young.  Does pride in what you’ve accomplish mean that you have contempt for anybody who can’t keep up with you?  Does it mean that the single mother who can’t work on her feet longer than 50 hours a week doesn’t deserve a good life?  Does it mean the older man who struggles with modern technology and can’t seem to keep up with the pace set by younger workers should just go throw himself off a cliff?
And, believe it or not, there are people out there even tougher than you.  Why don’t we let them set the bar, instead of you?  Are you ready to work 80 hours a week?  100 hours?  Can you hold down four jobs?  Can you do it when you’re 40?  When you’re 50?  When you’re 60?  Can you do it with arthritis?  Can you do it with one arm?  Can you do it when you’re being treated for prostate cancer?

I've lived in a place where 50 year olds work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, no sick days with pay. Where illness mean loosing one's job and depending on family for food. These 50 year olds looked like 80 year olds do in this county due to the back breaking work they've undertaken for the last 30 years. They lived in slums in a developing country.

And is this really your idea of what life should be like in the greatest country on Earth?
I know what my answer is. The author continues to describe his understanding of the "American dream".
Look kid, I don’t want you to “get by” working two jobs and 60 to 70 hours a week.  If you’re willing to put in that kind of effort, I want you to get rich.  I want you to have a comprehensive healthcare plan.  I want you vacationing in the Bahamas every couple of years, with your beautiful wife and healthy, happy kids.  I want you rewarded for your hard work, and I want your exceptional effort to reap exceptional rewards.  I want you to accumulate wealth and invest it in Wall Street.  And I want you to make more money from those investments.
  I wish I had the grace to write this letter.


  1. The United States has an economy of 14 trillion dollars and is the No. 1 economy in the world.

    India, with an economy of 1.8 trillion dollars is the No. 9 economy in the world, just above Canada at No. 10 and just below Italy at No. 8.

    India has 4 times as many people as the United States.

    As per the liberal theory, should the United States and the 7 other countries with economies more massive than India not pay India till we are all equal? I have never met a liberal who could explain why the spirit of charity...of redistribution of wealth downwards to the less fortunate should miraculously stop with Americans.

    No, I dont mean a few bucks in aid nor a fashionable weekend trip of freshman students to volunteer in a poor country, I mean why not put the whole world on the American welfare system?

    Perhaps, you Americans are the Wall Street types in the world context who want to keep what you earned because you think you fully deserve your success (and I think you do)?

  2. "should the United States and the 7 other countries with economies more massive than India not pay India till we are all equal?"

    In so far as the Occupy movement is about a level playing field (which occupiers should feel free to disagree with me on), I would welcome a world order where "Fair Trade" was truly fair, and not a game where those who have more get to set the rules, where reparations are made for colonial histories, etc. etc.
    Don't ask me what the world would look like, my economics theory is not what it needs to be to model that situation.

    "I have never met a liberal who could explain why the ... redistribution of wealth downwards to the less fortunate should miraculously stop with Americans. "

    Neither have I. In fact, I know, and know of many union organizers, clergy members, etc. who believe strongly in the slogan "We all do better when we all do better" and tried organizing in and supporting labor movements in Latin America and South America. This country's governments (at times in coordination with the local government) acted against them, and the associated assassinations are somewhat well known.

    This doesn't address your specific complaint about India, but I hope it addresses your larger point.

    "I mean why not put the whole world on the American welfare system?"

    Um, because I think a human being deserves better than just 12 weeks of unemployment insurance?

    Snark aside, there are plenty of American (and Western European) liberals who have been clamoring for things like a Jubilee (a debt forgiveness program for countries below a certain per capita GDP). They don't get a lot of media coverage like the Occupy movement has at the moment. But they do exist.

    "Perhaps, you Americans are the Wall Street types in the world context who want to keep what you earned because you think you fully deserve your success (and I think you do)? "

    Perhaps some Americans are. Perhaps some American liberals are. Perhaps some of them are on Wall Street and various squares around the country. But that isn't a universal description of the American liberal population I know. And I know that I only know a small sliver of what is out there.

  3. All you could find is some minor liberal movements who want to excuse debt for poorer countries. LOL! Just excuses.

    Why do you skirt the issue? Dont tell me about half measures(or, more precisely, 0.0000005% measures); like how you support (or may consider) fair trade, labour movements abroad, reparations, debts excused etc.

    Just demand to open up the US treasury and send out cheques to the poor people across the world, like a welfare payment. Lets see if there is a major liberal movement which supports that.

    Occupy Wall St folks say they deserve certain stuff simply because they are human.

    Sure, let the Occupy Wall Street protestors line up to donate their possessions to the 90% of people in the world poorer than them and we will see. Because unless they do that, it seems their point is that Americans are more human than others.

  4. In fact, let us examine the behaviour of more liberal nations like Canada, Australia, etc towards an economy on the rise, like India.

    In 2008, when India asked that nuclear apartheid be ended and India allowed into international nuclear trade, the US enthusiastically supported it. Liberal Denmark and holland and Norway and Austria stood up to oppose us. Finally, the US muscled the liberal Western nations to allow an exemption to India. To this day, liberal Australia refuses to sell uranium to India. Why would liberals want Indians not to have electric power and remain poor?

    In fact, this was one of the first major decisions Australian labour took as soon as it came into office: no uranium for India! White power! Why? Why does supposedly conservative USA stand up for equal treatment of India, but supposedly liberal Australia support apartheid?

    I can tell you why. In the year 2000, Australian economy exceeded that of India. Today, Indian economy is twice that of Australia. Liberal Australia doesnt like that. The liberal movement is, at its core, elitist.

  5. Again, not to put words in the mouths of the Occupiers, but some of the things that they claim are their right because they are human, are things like debt forgiveness on mortgages, health care, pensions, job creation. I see a direct parallel between an international program like Jubilee 2000 calling for debt forgiveness in the UN, and calling for mortgage forgiveness in the US today. Many calls for debt restructuring and forgiveness are as more about removing the perverse incentive caused by debt overhang than about handouts or fairness per se. This is similar to the bank bailout: it had to happen, just not necessarily the way it did.The other movements I've cited similarly parallel the the demands for job creation and better working conditions. My understanding is that the demands being made on city squares around the country are all for measures that will get this country up an working again.

    As for welfare, that's a loaded word. I'd like a list of which specific programs in America you are calling welfare. But speaking in a broader sense, every penny coming out of the US treasury got there because someone, somewhere paid taxes. Whether it is income tax, or payroll tax, or sales tax. What I see happening across the country is a call for a redistribution of who pays how much tax (i.e. for the tax system to be more progressive) and for a redistribution of how those tax dollars are being spent.

    To extend this to a world wide scale, I think it might be difficult if you also want taxation with representation. If the US treasury is to redistribute its income to countries around the world the same way it redistributes to Americans, then it would be fair for the US to be calling for input into its treasury from all around the world. And the sovereignty and all sorts of other things get pulled into the mix. It might be a fantastically creative solution to all the worlds problems, but again, my economic and political theory is not up to tackling it.

    As for why other countries failed to sell India uranium, there are domestic politics and treaties involved in that decision, as you know. Whether they were being hypocrites and picking on India, or whether they were being fair, I just don't know enough of the history around that issue to be able to comment. My suspicion is that the decision was based much more on keeping domestic anti-nuclear protesters happy than caring one way or the other about India.

  6. Rich people who made their money should get to keep their earnings, just like rich countries get to keep their wealth. Just like America earned its money and its success and deserves to be No. 1 among nations, some Americans earned their money and success and deserve to be ahead of others. Let them keep their money and success. Why do you envy them?

    What % of welfare recipients actually pay as much tax in their lifetime as they get out of the welfare pot? Every American who went out, created wealth and paid taxes to the US govt made all his/her money for HIMSELF, not for all Americans. If American poor should be able to share his money, so should people across the world. Being an American does not mean you deserve a packet of cash.

    Your fundamental assumption is that an American is more entitled to tax money paid by other Americans than an Indian. This is contrary to the American way. America is a free, capitalist nation. It's each man for himself. And it is this ethic that made America great and powerful.

    This is the problem with equality: you only want it with those richer than you.

    I think it is fairly clear that the environmental/anti-nuclear...etc, etc. movement is all about preserving white privilege. 50 million people died in Africa because American liberals cant stand DDT. Millions died in famine in Zaire because Western liberals used their money and influence to convince the much more poorly informed people of Zaire that Western food aid was genetically modified "poison". It's not funny: 50 million dead is not funny and some of the stronger "poor nations" like India have figured out the liberal game.

  7. I don't think you two are using the same language, or you are debating different things. It is frustrating how this is only an example of what happens everywhere.

  8. One thing at least some Western liberals do support is free immigration. This would allow anybody from anywhere to come benefit from US redistribution while avoiding the issues of sovereignty, corruption in some foreign governments, the distortion of markets dominated by foreign aid, etc.

    To some extent welfare is a bet by the government; many recipients never pay enough taxes to cover the costs they incurred, but some end up paying far more over their lifetimes. Furthermore even those who never receive welfare benefit from a safety net that lets them take risks (starting a business, quitting a job to search for better work). It therefore makes some sense for welfare eligibility to correspond to a tax base so that these benefits can be internalised to pay for it. Free immigration would permit this without the global unfairness/effective racism of the current system.

    I am somewhat disappointed by the weakness of support for free immigration from both the traditional Left and things like the Occupy movement, but such people are usually at least open to the idea; strong anti-immigrant sentiment remains the domain of the political Right in most western countries.

  9. Lemme check, Anon256. So you want any person who can find his way to the American border to instantly receive a monthly ~$1000 payment from the US treasury? Are you sure? There are at least 2 billion people in the world who would want that. The payment comes to 2 trillion dollars a month and hence 24 trillion a year. I dont doubt your sincerity, but it doesnt hurt to double check.

    In most Western countries and more so in the more liberal Western countries, what I see is anti-poor nation sentiment. I see Western liberals oppose nuclear power for Indians. Too bad we kicked that door open on that, so try another way. As soon as Indian economy surpassed Canada, Canada declared that the entire Indian security forces are terrorists! Funny coincidence! We had to protest...and Canada licked up its spit immediately. Thanks Canada; at least we appreciate your cowardice.

    At least India is capable of protectin its interests; what about a weak weak weak nation like honduras? Last I checked, liberals were pissed off that herman cain had t-shirts made in honduras, not America! What a heartless conservative he is! Yes, friends, Americans need jobs more than those rich people in honduras! The Occupy Wall St. protestors will probably concur.

  10. Anon @ 3:23: You are correct. The initial conversation was with someone I know, where we were both twitting each other a bit. It happened to take place in a public forum. We know where the other stands, and that we have no hope of changing the other's position. I was practicing using facts and not emotions.

    Anon256: It was a huge revelation to me, when I finally decided to study a little economics, that one of the underlying assumptions of most basic economics models is free movement of labor. All of a sudden, much of the inequality of the world, and the disjoint between politically proposed models and what happens on the ground started to make sense!

    But one has to be a bit careful, I think. For instance, if health benefits in country A kicked in after n months of residence, and kicked in in country B after n-1 months, and were better, one would want to keep people who think they might get sick in country A from moving to country B. There are probably ways to solve this, and as a first order solution, free movement is great. There just needs to be a "proceed with caution" sign posted.