29 July 2010

The Rich Calling Out the Rich; Pot, Meet Kettle

Hardly a week goes by without some elected (or appointed) government official claiming that the rich are getting over in America, that the rich need to pay “their fair share” (according to Mrs. Clinton), that the rich are to blame for the economic woes of America (and, indeed, the world). But there is something which must be kept in mind when this flavor of demonization comes to pass: many, most, if not all of those who make such claims about the “rich” are indeed “rich” themselves.

Take Mrs. Clinton for example. Her and her husband earned more than $100 million in the period between 2000 and 2006, with after-tax earnings of about $57 million, according to an old Chicago Sun-Times article. Would Mrs. Clinton say that paying nearly half of her family’s income in taxes is not enough? Would she willingly and without provocation pay more? If her conviction is that the “rich” should pay more, surely an upstanding woman such as herself should lead by example.

Speaker Pelosi and her husband are also quite wealthy, according to the Washington Times. Between land and stocks, their wealth reaches into the tens of millions of dollars. And yet Mrs. Pelosi has repeatedly worked and called for tax increases on the “rich.” What there should be no doubt about is the fact that she and her husband are members of the very club that she – as Mrs. Clinton – claim must do “their fair share.”

The same Washington Post article lists Senator Reid’s wealth at about one million dollars – a relative lightweight among the tax-raising crowd. And yet he too would fall into the “rich” category under the squishy definition which the Obama administration employs.

One must ask, therefore, what are these politicians attempting to do? A few things to consider seem fairly straight-forward to me:

1)  Tax-and-spend politicians of any political stripe feel free to raise taxes in part because the personal benefit outstrips whatever personal cost – in this case, loss of capital – might come about. Thus, at least as much would come into their pocket as they would have to pay out due to higher tax rates.

2)  Politicians of any political stripe who point the “they’re rich” finger at someone else are confident that they themselves will not be judged as “rich” by the electorate. The politician merely directs the eye of the electorate at those to be demonized (e.g. auto executive, investment bankers, oil company chiefs, etc.) thereby diverting attention from themselves. Any corollary action taken by the politician can then be categorized as “protecting” the electorate from the “rich”; the politician can therefore proceed as in the previous point.

3)  There is power in money and there is money in power; politicians of any political stripe who are keen to enlarge their command of both realms are dangerous. And here, I don’t mean conspiracy-theory control – I mean real control. When Congress spews out 2,000+ page laws regulating this or that major economic activity, it gains for the federal government both power and money, power being the more precious of the two. The federal government can (and does) print more money.

So the next time you hear a politician – again, of any party affiliation – bleat on and on about the rich, the greedy, the ambitious, remember to consider just how rich, greedy, and ambitious the source is. Because while the kettle may indeed be black (it is not my purpose here to discuss that), there is no virtue or validity in the pot calling it such. Indeed, there’s something in the pot which – at that point in time – surely demands examination.

14 July 2010

The Change Mantra – The Risk of Removing National Character

Today in the New York Observer, an opinion piece by Joe Conason warns that voters ought to think twice (or thrice…or as many times at it takes) about voting for conservatives "because what they get may well be very different from what they actually want." Voters, he claims, must "be careful when they demand change." He then goes on to put forward his argument against current conservative candidates, which is all fine and good.

This mantra – beware of change; it may not be the change you want – is only convenient to liberals at the moment. Like all liberal arguments, it will be put back into the doublethink basement once its utility is gone, only to be resurrected immediately as needed.

The lure of "change" as a political hook has not only been employed in American politics; it was also the driving force behind the election of Labor Prime Minister Rudd in Australia. As I wrote back in 2007 – I was living and working in Australia at the time – it seemed that a majority of Australians got tired of seeing the same face as head of government, hearing the same message, voting for the same man (or party). The result was, then, change for the sake of change. Mr. Rudd came into power and change was inevitable.

Three years hence, for all intents and purposes, Australians are wary of the change which has taken place and perhaps even alarmed at the logical end to such change. One aspect of "change" which appears to have alarmed Australians (based on opinion pieces from Australia and America) is immigration. Julia Gillard, the lady who replaced Mr. Rudd as Prime Minister, has turned away from his less restrictive immigration policies because she sees a valid "concern that large-scale immigration and multiculturalism are threatening Australia's core values and identity." In order to keep Australia Australian, Ms. Gillard apparently understands the need to turn away from the "change" instituted by Rudd, as it amounts to removing Australia's national identity. It remains to be seen if Ms. Gillard will also shift away from Mr. Rudd's "climate change" initiatives; decisions have been put on the back-burner until after elections. But one may suppose that if climate change policies threaten to alter the national character of Australia, the electorate will reject them in the long term. Change for the sake of change, it seems, has a rather sour aftertaste.

In America, belief in "change" seems to be fading as well. Eighteen months into the Obama administration, the meaning of Mr. Obama's version of change has come fully into focus: epic-length legislative packages framed as "reform", astronomical debt levels, "emergency" spending sprees, and an arguably more divided population. Change means not understanding what impact legislation will have until long after it has passed – Speaker Pelosi said that the "health insurance reform bill" would have to be passed before we could find out what was in it; no one knows what rules will come as a result of the "financial reform" bill. Debt levels and the federal government's addition to spending (under both parties) go hand-in-hand. The unification of races and classes which was promised during Mr. Obama's campaign has turned into demonization of various groups – banks, car companies, oil companies, insurance companies, tea partiers, gun-owners, and so on. The recent spate of race-related news stories is further evidence of explosion of divisive speech, speech which lacks substance and therefore relies on simple differences to categorize as "good" and "bad". Divisive speech has created a balkanization based on race, income, and profession.

Getting back to Mr. Conason's point, understanding what "change" means for the future of a country, any country, is a very important aspect for the electorate to consider. America has now had a hefty drink of Mr. Obama's version of change. I would argue that the growth of government and the population's dependence on government, the growth of national debt, and the growing divisions within have made America less American. If the path our country is on is indeed taking away from our national character, a change is indeed needed.