Sunday, January 16, 2011

The real reasons to despise the right

It's time for the left to get over Jared Loughner, the assassin in the Tucson murders. It certainly would have been easy and convenient if investigators had found a diary or letter in which he acknowledged that "hate speech", or Sarah Palin's "crosshair" map, had convinced him to start shooting at people. But that was not the case. The brief hope for some on the left that this terrible affair would somehow discredit the Tea Screamers or the right wing, or Republicans, has not been realized. In fact, the persistence of claims for the connection has, in fact, further damaged the credibility of many who were pushing it.

This is, in fact, not necessarily a bad thing. The argument that the right wing should be rejected because it encourages political assassinations is not only very difficult -- even impossible -- to demonstrate, but it obscures the really important reasons to reject what passes in America for conservatism. The right wing and its Tea Screamer and Republican agents should be rejected because its philosophy is a bad one, and its policies have proved to be wrong many times over.

First of all, the conservative arguments -- especially those related to economics -- turn out to be empirically incorrect. The key word here is "empirically". Economics is not really a science since its claims, even when expressible in strictly scientific, numerical terms, can not be tested by experiment. You simply can't take two fairly large, directly comparable yet independent economic communities, and try two different economic policies on them. However, you can take a particular society -- say the American one -- and analyze the effects of the various economic policies that have been tried. This itself is not, of course, an exact proof or disproof of the effectiveness of the various policies, but it can give some indication of the correctness of the claims made for these particular policies.

When you judge the effects of various policies that have been referred to as conservative, you can see, by-and-large, that they have not delivered on the claims made for them. The traditional "responsible" policies of "fiscal prudence" and pay-as-you go of old-style Republicans such as Coolidge andHarding, turned out to be ineffective in dealing with capitalist failures like the Great Depression (not that any policies except wartime spending did much good either). Protecting the banks from inflation didn't help the banks on balance, because they were themselves guilty of outrageous speculation; meanwhile traditional deflationary policies boosted unemployment and made things worse. Later, after the Great Depression ended and regulation forced some responsibility by the banks, the conservative approach shifted to across-the board tax-cutting and deregulation (all couched in anti-government rhetoric). This marked the newer phase of right wing economics. Throwing money at their favorite recipients, the military-industrial complex and fat-cats in general, easily served two purposes: transferring middle class taxes to rich friends and creating deficits that they cynically hoped would "starve the beast" of a government at least partially committed to protecting all citizens.

A significant step in bank deregulation took place with the repeal of the Roosevelt-era (1933) Glass-Steagall Act -- see my blog on this. (The repeal was passed by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed by then President Clinton in 1999 -- surely at the request of his many Wall Street advisors.) This act had prevented banks from speculating in securities with their customers' money, and had prevented disastrous bank implosions for a half-century.

During the Clinton administration, the tax rate for wealthy people was higher than it is now, mostly as a result of the succeeding Bush II tax cuts. Yet, the economy grew much faster under Clinton in spite of that, the unemployment rate was far lower, and Clinton left office with a modest budget surplus. (Balanced budgets have been the demand of Republicans for decades, yet no modern Republican president -- including Reagan -- every submitted one.) There was a small recession early in the Bush II presidency, but by the time Bush II left office, the economy was in true crisis mode. The unregulated banking and securities industries, absent the Glass-Steagall Act, had created a massive international speculative bubble based on subprime mortgage-backed securities and CDOs. (Insurance giant AIG was choking on the disastrous credit default swaps it had sold to insure the values of these CDOs.) When this bubble burst, during Bush's second term -- with all three branches of government controlled by Republicans, including their Supreme Court appointees -- the country fell into the worst depression since the Great one.

(Note: I'm not even getting into the Enron collapse, which is another tale of deregulation disaster. Enron's president, Ken Lay, was a particular friend of Bush personally, and of right wing economic ideology.)

So, after the Republicans had had carte-blanch to institute huge tax cuts, mainly benefitting the wealthy, and widespread de-regulation, the result was not prosperity and economic growth as their "theory" had predicted, but economic disaster. The very same conservatives who had created this problem in the process of transferring wealth from the middle class to big business and the already-wealthy, still have the gall to declare, in Reagan's words, that "government is the problem."

It seems pretty safe to say that, based on results, right-wing economic ideology has proved to be simply wrong, wrong, wrong. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

But there's more. By demonizing government, the conservatives (What are they conserving?) have made it extremely difficult for the government to fulfill its entire mandate, as spelled out in the Preamble to the Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

In particular, the government is enjoined to "establish Justice" and "promote the general Welfare." Justice, for conservatives such as Antonin Scalia, is interpreted as establishing enough of a police and militia and court system to protect the property of the privileged and of the corporations, newly designated as citizens by the Court. The "general Welfare" to them means a "trickle-down" prosperity. They have never outgrown the old European notion that poverty is the fault of the poor, to be dealt with by the poor-house and the debtors' prisons. Their view of nature is still full of red claws and teeth -- survival of the fittest -- with only mockery for the genuine human qualities of sympathy, help, and sharing. In their view, universal healthcare is an affront to liberty (the right to bar alms, if I may be permitted). They also believe that basic rights have to be separately legislated for each subdivision of humankind: the landless, women, gays, immigrants. Theirs is the small, mean conception of mutual human respect and kindness; they consider those who take a larger view as suckers and bleeding hearts. (Ever listen to Rush L. ?)They are never in favor of a program that specifically creates jobs, yet view any law restricting what businesses may do as "job killing." They consider universal healthcare as job killing, as well as replacing oil and agricultural subsidies with environmental and infrastructure programs. (Such transfers have long been believed by most economists to be the most efficient creators of jobs.)

While both Parties kowtow to the gun lobby, it is the right-wing which has made ownership and carrying of guns a fetish. One of the questions recently asked of the candidates for head of the Republican National Committee was "How many guns do you own?" (read this here.) The Republicans have blocked a renewal of the ban on assault rifles. They have opposed similar bans on cop-killer dum-dum bullets. The NRA wants fully automatic weapons (machine guns) to be legal, and the folks on the right never say no to them. The right opposes any sort of effective control on gun ownership, including deep background checks conducted by the police and FBI, and registration of all weapons. The fact that they are not concerned about madmen obtaining deadly weapons is part 1 of their real connection with the murders in Tucson; the second part is their reluctance to provide subsidized mental health treatments for those unfortunate enough to have psychological illness -- a corollary of their opposition to universal healthcare (as an illustration, see this story, forwarded to me by Alison).

OK, time to cut this short. The point is that the truly bad policies of the right need to be pointed out, and that we should not be diverted by silly charts with cross-hairs and talk-show babble. Unlike the right, which has patiently propagandized for its causes over the years, the left wastes its time grasping for opportunistic straws such as the murders in Tucson.

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