The Republican scam, and the Democrats' unwillingness to oppose it

Last night I was listening to AM talk radio, and a Republican candidate was promoting the following conservative narrative: “Yes, there is terrible wealth inequality, and it’s due to government waste, corruption and regulations. We need to slash taxes and get rid of regulations so that the middle class can have jobs and thrive.  Government is a taker. We need more freedom.”  The candidate also talked about the preciousness of life.

Likewise, at a political event in Nevada recently, Marc Rubio told the audience that the notion that “big government is good for the people who are trying to make it” is a “lie.” He said, “When the government dominates the economy, the people that can afford to influence the government — they win. And everybody else is stuck.” (source: November 30, 2015 edition of the New Yorker)

There is some truth to Rubio’s statements, and the conservative narrative is plausible enough to dupe lots of people.

Yet it’s a big scam.

The scam goes like this. Conservatives corrupt and starve government so it performs poorly. They make sure it serves the 1%. They wage almost constant war. They allow corporations to ship profits and jobs overseas. They oppose regulations that might rein in Wall Street, even as they decry Wall Street greed and the bailouts. They under-fund the IRS and regulatory agencies. They promote regressive taxation which unfairly burdens the middle class.  Then they argue that taxes are too high and government is wasteful and corrupt. They use the failures of government to justify cutting taxes and maintaining tax loopholes for the rich. When progressives try to fix the system, they accuse progressives of wanting to raise peoples’ taxes.

The scam works — it’s rather brilliant — and our task is to expose it and promote an alternative vision in which government serves everyone, not just the 1%.

Scam Alert!

The solution to the corruption of government isn’t to throw in the towel and give up on government. The solution is to fix the system so it’s not rigged.

But we have a tiny voice, and the corporate-backed Republicans have most of the money and an effective noise machine.  There aren’t enough progressive rich people willing to fund an alternative, lefty media empire. And most Democratic politicians choose to ignore the problems of fair taxation and government corruption. They allow Republicans to frame the issues.

At a recent King County Dems Legislative Action Committee meeting I asked state House majority leader Pat Sullivan what he’d do to educate the voters so that they stop voting for Tim Eyman’s anti-tax initiatives and for Republican candidates.   I want Sullivan and the rest of the Democratic Party leadership — including Governor Inslee and ex-Governors Gregoire, Locke, and Lowery — to boldly take the lead in educating the public about taxes and government.

But Sullivan said that it’s not his job to educate the public.  The voters won’t listen to him.

I think the politicians run away from the issue because they think (know?) that they’ll get slaughtered at the polls if they talk about taxes.

Moreover, there are enough corporate, triangulating politicians within the Democratic Party to muddy the waters and make it unclear which party can be trusted. Bill Clinton dismantled Glass-Steagall, supported NAFTA and said “The era of big government is over.” President Obama surrounded himself with Wall Street cronies and promoted a health care plan designed by the Heritage Foundation to enrich insurance companies. Governor Inslee gave an $8.7 billion tax break to Boeing. Democrat Ross Hunter took the lead in arranging tax breaks for Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Republicans control the U.S. House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court, and they’ve taken over a large majority of state legislatures. In Washington State Republicans control the state Senate and are two seats away from controlling the state House.

Who will step up and promote the pro-government, fair taxation message people need to hear? How can we strengthen the hand of progressives in the Democratic Party?

Clearly, Bernie Sanders has been effective at getting parts of this message out to the public. Perhaps the movement he inspires will succeed at starting to fix the corruption. My only fear is that his calling himself a socialist might limit his effectiveness. The ironic thing is: he’s probably not even a socialist! He’s a social democrat. See Bernie Sanders is a social democrat, not a socialist. Dwight Eisenhower was more of a socialist than Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders is a Social Democrat, not a Democratic Socialist

[Note: this article’s former title was: “The conservative scam: a plausible narrative that enriches the 1%”.]

On the new atheists and liberal values

In What scares the new atheists John Gray argues that militant atheists, such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Danniel Dennet, are mistaken in their belief that secularism can cure the world’s problems. Rather, suggests Gray, the atheists are cultural imperialists who, like the proponents of Social Darwinism a century or so ago, wish to impose their unsupported utopian scheme upon others.

In the case of the Social Darwinists, atheism was used to justify eugenics and Nazi racism.

In the case of the new atheists, anti-religious ideology is being used to impose western, secular values upon people who prefer more traditional outlooks.

Gray thinks that the source of the new atheists’ misplaced Utopianism is a mistaken view of human nature.  “This is, in fact, the quintessential illusion of the ruling liberalism: the belief that all human beings are born freedom-loving and peaceful and become anything else only as a result of oppressive conditioning.”   In another paragraph he says, “The conviction that tyranny and persecution are aberrations in human affairs is at the heart of the liberal philosophy that prevails today.”

But which of the new atheists has claimed that humans are inherently good? A liberal would agree that humans aren’t born freedom-loving and peaceful; each of us has aspects of both angel and demon.  Indeed, liberals believe that society needs a paternalistic government, with secular institutions, to guide us away from ignorance and brutality.  According to liberalism, the civilized Enlightenment values of reason, science, and democracy are the foundation for a just society.

Nor do I believe that we need “oppressive conditioning” to civilize people. We just need to provide education and a decent standard of living without constant war.

Teaching kids about evolution, sex and global warming does not count as oppressive conditioning.

The main alternative to liberal government as a source of morality is the Church (or the Mosque or the Synagogue). One reason many devout Christians vote Republican is that they mistrust the secularism of government. How odd that Christians end up supporting war and the rich! Jesus of the Sermon of the Mount would have supported peace and the poor — i.e., liberal values. Of course, there are other versions of Jesus in the Bible; the Jesus of Revelations is a destroyer.

Another alternative to government as a source of values is the market. As a progressive, I don’t believe the market is sufficient: we need government to regulate the market, protect the common good, and, indeed, lay a foundation for the market to work. Quoting Robert Kuttner: “As Karl Polanyi famously wrote in a seeming oxymoron, ‘laissez-faire was planned.’ Markets could not exist without states defining the terms of property ownership and commerce, creating money, enforcing contracts, protecting patents and trademarks, and providing basic public institutions.”

But Gray is not an opponent of liberalism. He writes, “Considering the alternatives that are on offer, liberal societies are well worth defending. But there is no reason for thinking these societies are the beginning of a species-wide secular civilisation of the kind of which evangelical atheists dream.”

Gray’s point is that the new, militant, evangelical atheists are mistaken in their beliefs that there is a solid scientific (or philosophical) foundation for atheism. Furthermore, he believes that educating the public about this foundation won’t necessarily lead to the dissolution of religious beliefs and the end of violence. Gray is pessimistic about the prospects for the growth of secular, liberal values.

Gray is correct that there’s no guarantee a conversion to atheism will improve our condition.  But whoever said that there’s a guarantee?

Gray starts his essay recalling the illiberal uses to which atheism was put in the early 20th century, when Social Darwinism was used as a justification for racism and eugenics.  His point seems to be that the new atheists’ antagonism towards religion is another sort of illiberal, intolerant attempt to impose particular values on others.  In short, are the new atheists cultural imperialists, hoping to impose a particular, Western view of how society should be organized upon people who prefer to live with traditional, religious organizations.

Gray is pessimistic that secularism will win.

I am less pessimistic.  As Martin Luther said, in the long arc of history, there is a tendency towards justice and progress.  This is just an empirical observation, not a teleological law.  There’s no guarantee that education and secularism will save the world, but it’s our best hope.

Moreover, unlike the new atheists, I think the enemy of progress isn’t so much religion as greed, prejudice, and ignorance. Religion is often misused, but it’s also often a source of progress. The new atheists exaggerate the extent to which religion is harmful. They paint with an overly broad brush.  Not all religion is illiberal and violent.   Religious leaders played a large role in Abolitionism, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Peace Movement.   Martin Luther King was devoutly religious.  Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement served the poor and opposed war. Catholic priests and nuns in The Plowshares Movement bravely took peaceful, direct action against nuclear weaponry. Most Christians, Muslims, and Jews are peaceful and moderate.

Anecdotally, I recall registering voters at a Catholic college near Pittsburgh in the year 2000. I feared that the nuns would be hostile. Instead, they welcomed my presence as a Kerry supporter, and they were charming and bright.

Gray acknowledges that, despite the many instances in which religious people have allied themselves with forces of violence and corruption,

the fault is not with religion, any more than science is to blame for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or medicine and psychology for the refinement of techniques of torture. The fault is in the intractable human animal. Like religion at its worst, contemporary atheism feeds the fantasy that human life can be remade by a conversion experience – in this case, conversion to unbelief.

I agree with the first two sentences above. The final sentence — about the hopelessness of education and secular values — is overly pessimistic. Moreover, I don’t think it’s necessary for a liberal person to oppose religion as vociferously as the new atheists often do.  Secularism needn’t be militantly anti-religious.

The natural allies of Christians are progressives, not Republicans — provided fundamentalist Christians can be weaned from their extreme beliefs and turned to a more liberal Christian understanding.  There are millions of liberal Christians, Jews, and Muslims who combine faith with progressive values. Rather than opposing all religion, secular progressives should find allies among liberal religious people.

The enemy isn’t religion. The enemy is greed, hatred and ignorance. Certainly religion, of a liberal variety, can help with the battle against greed and hatred.

Conservative ideology

Conservative ideology is based on protecting rich people from having to pay for the benefits they reap from government: peace at home, stable markets, infrastructure, an educated work force, research, potable water, clean air, public health, etc. Conservatives wasted trillions on corrupt, disastrous wars and are happy to pay subsidies to corporate farmers and Big Oil, but they’re eager to cut food stamps for poor people, crush unions, blame teachers, dismantle public transit, deny science, and restrict the vote. The Norquist No-Tax-Pledge prohibits income taxes but allows regressive sales taxes.

Plutocracy is comin, to the USA

New, alternative lyrics for Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy is coming, to the USA” (see videos below)


Lyrics © Donald A. Smith
       D               G           D
It's coming from corruption that's profane
             D          A                 D
From Grover Norquist's government-hating brain
       G
It's coming from the spiel 
       G_sus          G
That makes your head reel
    D           G                 D
when you listen to the right wing refrain.

          F#
From the Tea Party crazies
          Bm
From the Chamber of Commerce hacks
          F#
From neocon imperialists
          Bm
From Karl Rove's Super-PAC
 A                    G       D
Plutocracy is comin, to the USA.

---------------------------------
       D               G           D
It's coming from tax cuts for the rich,
       D          A                 D
From the Supreme Court, the 1%'s bitch.
       G
It's coming from evil folk 
       G_sus           G
like David and Charles Koch 
    D                          G                D
and from Bill and Barry's traitorous rightward switch.

          F#
From Citizen United
          Bm
From Clarence Thomas's smut
          F#
From John Robert's smirk 
          Bm
From Anton Scalia's butt
 A                   G        D
Plutocracy is comin, to the USA.

---------------------------------
      D               G           D
It's coming from the wars. Open your eyes.
            D            A                  D
Killed millions. Wasted trillions. Hear the cries.
       G
From the disaster in Vietnam
       G_sus           G
to the debacle of Afghanistan
    D               G         D
to the war in Iraq based on lies.

          F#
From the CIA's dirty deeds
          Bm
From collateral clone attacks
          F#
From targeted assassinations
          Bm
From illegal wire taps
 A                   G        D
Plutocracy is comin, to the USA.

---------------------------------
          A         G
    Bail out, bail out,
         D         G    D
    O sinking Ship of State!
             A
    To the Shores of Greed
             G
    Past the Reefs of Need
             D
    To the Squalls of Hate.
          A      G     D
    Bail out, bail out, bail out.

---------------------------------
      D               G           D
It's coming from your neighbor's SUV
      D               A           D
From the toxins that are killing off the bees.

       G
It's coming from Big Oil,   
       G_sus           G
and the fracking and the spoil
    D                   G        D
and climate change denial fantasies. 

          F#
From ugly suburban sprawl
         Bm
From filthy factory smoke,   
          F#
From the local big box mall
         Bm
From David and Charles Koch
 A                   G        D
Plutocracy is comin, to the USA.

-------------------
      D               G           D
It's coming from right-wing media hosts
            D            A                  D
From the wingnuts with their hate-filled posts.

       G
It's coming from Fox News
       G_sus           G
and its pro-corporate views
    D                    G          D
that are unfair and unbalanced at most.

          F#
From Limbaugh and Glenn Beck
         Bm
From Bill O'Reilly's rants
          F#
From Hannity and Savage's drek
          Bm
From Dennis Miller's cant

 A                   G        D
Plutocracy is comin, to the USA.

---------------------------------

       D            G           D
It's coming from income inequality,
      D                 A         D
From tax loopholes  for Apple and GE.

       G
It's coming from tax havens   
       G_sus           G
and accounting tricks so brazen
    D             G           D
it's a wonder they're not on TV.

          F#
From low capital gain tax rates 
          Bm
From Walmart and Goldman Sachs
          F#
From Boeing and Microsoft
          Bm
From tax enforcement cutbacks.

 A                   G        D
Plutocracy is comin, to the USA.

Here are two versions of Leonard Cohen’s original song.

European Socialist Germany kicks US ass

Political Pundit · 5,047 Fans

Funny: Germany is one of those European-Style Socialist countries that the Republicans are always warning us about.

Germany’s population is one quarter the US, yet they have a more productive economy, they export more goods, their citizens don’t work as hard, they get free college and health care, they have lower poverty rate and they have less crime.

1. EXPORT SALES:

Germany: $1.3-trillion
US: $1.1-trillion

2. BALANCE OF TRADE RANK.

Germany: #3
US: #191

3. BALANCE OF TRADE IN DOLLARS:

Germany: +$162.3-billion per year
US: -$561-billion per year (That’s Minus!)

4. AVERAGE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE DURING RECESSION:

Germany: 5.5%
US: 8.2%

5. AVERAGE HOURS WORKED PER YEAR

Germany: 1,436 hours
US: 1,804 hours

6. COST OF EDUCATION, AVERAGE DEBT ON GRADUATION

Germany: $0 (College is free.)
US. $26,966

7 CRIME RATE, MURDERS PER MILLION PEOPLE

Germany: 11
US: 43

8.People Living In Poverty

Germany: 11%
US: 15%

9. INCOME INEQUALITY (Smaller numbers are better.)

Germany: 27.0
US: 45.0

10. UNION MEMBERSHIP

Germany: 26%
US: 13%

11. SAVINGS RATE

Germany: 10.5%
US: 0.4%

http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/eco_exp-economy-…
http://www.bls.gov/ilc/intl_unemployment_rates_mon…
http://www.alternet.org/economy/148501/why_germany…
http://projectonstudentdebt.org/files/File/Debt_Fa…
http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0934556.html
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world…
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/lab_tra_uni_mem-…
http://econ365.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/gross-s…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balance_of_trade

Size matters, but not as much as quality: More good government, less bad government, please!

Most debates about politics in America concern the question of how big the government should be.

Conservatives want small government. Liberals want big government. At least that’s the standard framing of the issues.

Of course, it’s not quite true that conservatives favor small government.  When it comes to national security, most conservatives have been strong supporters of  high Pentagon spending, military adventures, and expansive powers for the NSA and CIA.

And while conservatives are eager to cut spending for food stamps, education, regulatory agencies, and public health care, for example, most of them are quite happy with subsidies for corporate farming, Big Oil, and other favored industries.  (For more examples of how conservatives feed at the government trough, see Dean Baker’s book “The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer.”)

And most conservatives are OK with intrusive government when it comes to cultural issues: abortion, marriage, and drug policy.

Yet the Big versus Small framing of political debates isn’t totally wrong.  The libertarian wing of the conservative movement wants small government not only for social welfare, but also with regard to the military, the police, and cultural issues.  For example, many supporters of Ron Paul and of the Tea Party movement are disgusted with the corruption and waste surrounding government spending on the military, corporate subsidies, the Wall Street bailouts, and the failed war on drugs.

In short, the libertarians are the ideal conservatives. They really do want small government, not just for social spending.  Mainstream Republicans don’t consistency follow libertarian principles, but they often appeal to libertarian ideals in their speeches.

But the Big versus Small framing doesn’t address the real issues we face.

The problem isn’t that we have too much government or too little government.

The problem is that we have too much bad government and too little good government.

Some examples of bad government:  the Vietnam War, the second war in Iraq, the F35 Joint Strike Fighter, NSA surveillance, subsidies for Big Oil, the war on drugs, and bailouts for Goldman Sachs.

Some examples of good government:  public libraries, parks, childhood vaccination, contract law,  civil rights legislation, labor laws, pollution laws, invention of the Internet, medical research, Head Start, The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Social Security, Medicare, and public transit systems.

Anarchists and others on the further left resemble libertarians in that they oppose Big Government and fail to acknowledge all the good that government has done.  But anarchists go further and oppose corporations as well. They oppose all forms of hierarchical structure and favor bottom-up, horizontal, worker-owned, local enterprises.

I support efforts to implement such horizontal means of production. But they can’t account for the entirety of society and the economy.  Government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, civil rights laws, and other top-down, hierarchical programs have been a great boon to people, building the middle class, creating many technology and medical innovations, and protecting people from harm.    Hierarchical corporations such as Microsoft, Google, Intel, and auto makers are often efficient and innovative at producing products.   Horizontal, bottom-up enterprises do exist (open-source software, for example), but they are the exception.  Furthermore, how do anarchists propose stopping the formation of corporations?  Don’t you need big government for that?

In any case, we need laws and regulations, and those require government. Society without government regulation would be like football with no rules.

Five Political Ideologies, in one easy image

Yes, government in the US is largely broken now. It serves the corporations and the rich. But the solution isn’t to blindly reduce the size of government, as libertarians and anarchists would do.   If people try to subvert laws, that doesn’t mean we do away with laws. The solution is to fix the problem by reducing corruption and getting money out of politics.  This will likely require a huge movement, akin to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.  But it’s doable. Things used to be better in the past. And many European nations have more equitable and just governments, without going the small government route.

Libertarians would say it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves and each other as needed; don’t depend on government.  But it is a fact that governments do take care of poor people, elderly people, and others unable to take care of themselves. Nobody else will take care of them.

Our country tried small government with the Articles of Confederation. That system didn’t work.  With no government at all, we’d be hunter-gatherers, lacking common laws, regulations, and government services.
Government is just We the People — or should be.

For further explanation, see Anarchism, Libertarianism and the way forward, Without Government We’d Still be Hunter-Gatherers and Government is like a Computer Operating System.

 

5 Ways Conservatives Promote Shirking and Freeloading

Freeloading CrowEarly in high school my daughters learned a lesson about group projects: some people don’t like to pull their weight. It wasn’t the kids who struggled to produce quality work that the girls found most frustrating. As fiery Ohio State Senator Nina Turner says, “We don’t all run the race at the same pace,” and the girls got that. It was the shirkers. I myself used to want one of those bumper stickers that say, “Mean people suck.” The girls would have wanted one that said, “Freeloaders suck.”

If life were just about bumper stickers, most conservatives would agree. The welfare queen icon of the 1970’s is credited to of conservative strategist Lee Atwater, and Republicans ranging from self-serving paranoia mongers like Glenn Beck to self-righteous fundamentalists like Phyllis Schlafly wax eloquent about personal responsibility.

But if you pay attention to conservative policy priorities you will notice that conservatives don’t actually want all Americans to step up, pitch in, and take responsibility. Responsibility is for ghetto dwellers, and fat kids who eat at McDonalds, and teens who get knocked up, and poor people who have fallen on hard times. Bootstrap it, baby, even if your feet are bare.

The delusion that each of us is master of his or her own destiny generates a callous attitude toward people who are struggling; it also generates a lack of appreciation for what successful Americans have received from generations past. Conservatives who think success is a matter of bootstrapping don’t ask what investments we need to make today so that future generations have the same bounty and opportunities we had. Bootstrap believers are oblivious to the principle of pay it forward.

Seattle, where I live, is scattered with people who got rich in the high tech lottery. Some of them are keenly aware of the conditions that allowed them to win big: rule of law, great schooling, teamwork, early government investment in the internet, and so on, along with their own hard work. Some are not. I remember one retired Microsoft millionaire commenting wryly about another, “He was born on third base and thinks he hit a home run.” As venture capitalist Nick Hanauer reminds us in his book, The True Patriot, there’s no such thing as a self-made man.

The fact is, just like those Microsoft and Google millionaires, America’s prosperity has been a group project. The most archetypal image of American history is not the lone cowboy but the barn building. Generations past laid the foundation for our economy, everything from physical infrastructure like roads that transport goods to market, to the abstract rules of the market itself—copyright protection, for example, or anti-trust laws. But even with that well-built foundation there are some things the market doesn’t do well. Clean water, sewer systems, national security, air traffic control . . . these are things we can’t very well create alone or by competing with each other, so we build and own them together, and we hire employees we call public servants to manage them. Many of these basics of prosperity only work if we all play by the same rules and all do our share.

But for all of their hardnosed rhetoric about personal responsibility, conservatives get mighty squishy when responsibility gets personal. Basic human flaws like selfishness and greed and a near limitless capacity for hypocrisy mean that we humans often end up with our heads on backwards; we talk one way and walk the other. That is how it is with conservatives and responsibility. Look at the walk instead of the talk, the policy priorities instead of the bumper stickers, and you will see that freeloading and shirking are perfectly compatible with conservative thinking. Here is just a handful of examples.

1. Disaster relief for some. Faced with someone else’s disaster or one that hasn’t yet made landfall, conservatives in the House and Senate fight to cut disaster relief funds. Why should I pay more taxes when my back yard is high and dry? Yet when election time came in November, New Jersey governor Chris Christie got points from Republican allies for securing federal funds in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. In the words of William Palatucci of the RNC, Christie truly cared about the problems confronting families. At the time of Sandy, Oklahoma Senators James Inhofe and Tom Coburn voted against providing relief funds for the Eastern seaboard. But when tornados touched down in their home state, they had no trouble putting out a hand and asking those East Coast liberals and the rest of America for assistance. They sought help from the same FEMA insurance funds they had been trying to whack back.  

I personally don’t consider it mooching when people who have been hit hard want to draw on an insurance pool that they’ve paid into, but some want to draw out without paying in. Oklahoma senators aren’t the only culprits. Most religious organizations claim that paying taxes on their real estate or income would blur the line between church and state, God forbid. But they don’t express the same concern when money flows in the opposite direction. Legislation currently advocated by both Catholic and Protestant lobbyists would allow churches to draw on public disaster relief funds that they haven’t paid into.

2.  Subsidies for religion. That’s not the only way that religious organizations and individual are hoping to get something for nothing. Rather like corporations that want the rights but not the responsibilities of personhood, churches and even some religious individuals want the benefits of citizenship without the duties. They want exemptions from basic human rights laws, like the obligation to serve gay people in public accommodations or to provide preventive health coverage to employees or to respect religious freedom in the military. They also want public money without having to chip in. In recent decades, figuring out how to pay for religion on the public dime without paying into the public kitty has become big business.  

Religious clergy use the same roads, electric line, water pipes, and sewers as the rest of us. They benefit from the same police services, military protection, and international diplomacy. But since 1954 they have not had to pay income tax on any compensation designated as a “housing allowance.” A clergy member could have $25,000 of his $75,000 salary so designated, use the money to purchase a house, and then, in a practice called “double dipping,” deduct mortgage interest and property taxes. On November 22, a federal judge ruled against the exemption, which re-directed an estimated $2.3 billion out of public coffers over a five year period. Given the amount at stake, it is expected that church lobbyists will pressure the Obama administration to appeal the decision. When clergy and churches don’t chip in for the services they use, either the rest of us pay more, or our country goes farther in debt. It’s that simple. 

3. Corporate profits; public losses. Corporations gain a competitive advantage when they can get someone else to pay their costs—someone like taxpayers or future generations of Americans. For example, one small bike shop in Colorado Springs spends $24,000 on medical insurance for four employees, while their biggest competitors, Walmart and Target, get the general public to subsidize healthcare for their workforce. They do it by paying below-poverty wages and limiting employees to part time work. In 2011, the state of Massachusetts spent $14.6 million on insurance for Walmart employees and their dependents, and even more for employees of Target. Freeloading lets irresponsible businesses undercut good-citizen competitors and drive them out of business. 

The same is true when irresponsible corporations are able to use our air and water like a free dump for hazardous waste. In India, it is estimated that pollution from coal plants causes 20 million new cases of asthma each year and kills 120,000. Here in the U.S., pollution levels are lower and asthmatics are more likely to get timely treatment. Even so we have data going back to the 1970’s showing that coal burning increases asthma attacks and respiratory ailments. Coal companies like Peabody don’t have to pay the cost of harm done, which means their profits are subsidized by the American public who take a hit in terms of both health and healthcare costs. Who really pays? The elderly and children. If coal companies had to step up and take responsibility for the real costs of their dirty products, energy innovators might find themselves on a level playing field.

4.  Right to Work or Right to Shirk? Speaking of level playing fields . . . The tug-of-war between living wages and corporate profits isn’t actually a tug of war unless workers can team up and pull together, and conservative profiteers realized a long time ago that they could skew the balance of power in their favor if they could somehow defund the labor movement. The strategy they came up with, which they call “Right to Work” legislation is a stroke of freeloading genius.  These laws basically say that anyone who works in a union shop gets union scale wages and benefits even if they don’t join up, pay dues, or participate in negotiations. Conservatives are banking that if some people have the right to a free ride, they will take it, and eventually there won’t be enough dues-paying members to keep labor organized.

In the children’s book, Swimmy, small fish Swimmyget terrorized by big fish until they learn to team up and swim together in the shape of an even bigger fish.  For the past century, the labor movement organized small fish to swim together, to cast the shadow of a big fish both in wage negotiations and in the halls of congress. Now, with globalization and technology shifts, old models aren’t working so well, which makes this particular conservative freeloader tactic well timed.      

 5.  The Smoking Gun. If one institution in the U.S. could be held up as the pinnacle of conservative freeloading it should be the NRA. The objective of the gun lobby is to ensure that profits accrue to the manufacturers while public health and safety costs do not. In other words, for its funders the NRA advocates the opposite of personal or corporate responsibility. Thanks to relentless lobbying, weapons manufacturers are exempt from liability caused by their deadly products.  

Gun advocates often are as guilty as manufacturers when it comes to shirking and freeloading. The libertarian ethic that idolizes gun rights is actually one that says I play; you pay.  Today, if I left a sword lying around unsecured where it could be found by a curious child or suicidal teen, I would be more legally liable than if I left an enticing gun lying around under the same circumstances. A sword owner has a responsibility to protect the general public under what are called “attractive nuisance” laws. Seventeen percent of gun owners keep their guns both loaded and unlocked. Last year, 52 kids in King County, Washington, were caught with guns at school. If guns were treated like other dangerous possessions, careless owners would be in a world of hurt, because the hurt they create would belong, at least financially, to them.

I could give dozens more examples—extraction companies that want to draw down America’s bank account of natural resources and then put profits in offshore tax shelters; online retailers that want to replace brick and mortar stores without paying local taxes that fund worker retraining; university educated bankers who pay expensive accountants to help them avoid chipping in for higher education. . .  . But the bottom line is this: When conservatives talk about responsibility, don’t read their lips; read their white papers. Corporate conservatives want special rules that let them privatize profits and socialize losses. Religious conservatives want special exemptions from civic duties and laws that apply to everyone else. Libertarian conservatives simply believe they are special—that 4000 diaper changes and university educations notwithstanding, they truly are self-made and don’t owe anything to anyone, past, present or future. It’s time we challenged the notion that the Republicans are the party of responsibility. 

Originally posted at awaypoint.wordpress.com

———————-

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Subscribe to her articles at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com