I’ve noticed a few posts dealing with the problems of taxation and government spending. With the social teaching of our Church clearly warns against the dangers of burdensome taxation, it nonetheless remains that tax rates have been cut dramatically in the last 30 years, even as government spending has increased. The losses of tax revenue were offset by a massive accumulation of debt, because a society such as ours requires a great deal of wealth to continue functioning.
I will be the one to point out, then, that far more perilous to the position of the working American family is the stagnation and overall decline of real wages – wages adjusted for inflation – during that same stretch of time. Both global pressures as well as corporate and government offensives against the social position of the American worker have contributed to a decline in real wages and have caused a build up of consumer debt that rivals the government’s debt.
We were told by endless propaganda no different in its shrillness and anxiousness that cutting taxes on the incomes of the wealthy, on dividends and capital gains, on estates and every other business venture, would create jobs and prosperity for all.
Symbols mean things, but they do not necessarily accomplish things in concrete fashion, so they often seem to be a prime source of argument and misunderstanding in the political arena.
Last week, environmental activists throughout the US participated in a “green hour” in which they all committed to turn off all electricity-using appliances in their possession for one hour (from 8-9pm, as I recall). This was supposed to express to the leaders of the G-20 nations the importance of moving to implement regulations to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.
Not being a major devotee of the global warming cause (I don’t think the kind of restrictions that could realistically be passed would do much good if global warming is in fact a man-made phenomenon, so I would be more interested in putting resources into mitigation than regulating power production) this gesture strikes me as a bit silly. If you really thought that reducing power consumption was important, it seems to me you should reduce your power consumption. Permanently, that is, not just for one hour and then go back to normal.
In the same sense, I suspect that the continuing controversy over Notre Dame University honoring President Obama looks silly to outsiders.
While I’m on the topic of narratives, Matthew Boudway at dotCommonweal has a post up entitled “They Cannot Fathom Their Failure”.* The post is based on a George Packer column, which basically makes the argument that conservatives “cannot fathom the failure of their philosophy” after the recent financial crisis, and that to deny they have been discredited is a form of self-delusion. This is a charge, I suppose, to be approached with trepidation; false consciousness is notoriously difficult to disprove. That said, it may be worthwhile to offer some thoughts in response. Here is an excerpt from the post:
…“[T]hey cannot fathom the failure of their philosophy.” Not “they will not fathom” it. They cannot. Sure, the response of many conservatives to the bailout and the stimulus package has been opportunistic and cynical. Many of them, though, simply cannot imagine what it would mean — what it now does mean — for the premises of their policy agenda, and indeed of their entire political philosophy, to have failed. Not even the most spectacular failure can force anyone to learn a lesson he desperately wishes not to learn. Historical events are always complicated and contingent enough to admit of more than one interpretation, and the most plausible interpretation is often not the most attractive.
I’ve always found libertarianism to be an attractive political philospohy. But…the libertarian perspective has a couple of traps. The trap Barnett describes is a particularly tough one to get out of: once seduced by a libertarian idea, like “goods and services are produced & distributed more effectively when markets are not interefered with by coercive agents like government”, its apparently obvious correctness turns it into a sort of semantic stop sign.
I went through a phase where if, say, education or healthcare policy came up in conversation, I’d say “Markets! Markets markets markets! MARKETS!” I found these conversations astonishingly unproductive, but I didn’t think to blame myself.
Bearing has an interesting post up which I suspect reflects the political experience of many serious Catholics over the last twenty five years. The whole thing is worth reading, but I’m quoting it extensively because I think the point she’s making is interesting and widely applicable:
I entered full communion with the Catholic church at the Easter Vigil in 1993, when I was a freshman in college…. A couple of years after that, I had a second conversion in which I was forced to realize that I could not be simultaneously a believing Catholic and a supporter of legal abortion. (Why it took me so long is another story again. Hint: There were some serious problems in that particular RCIA program.)
Being a contarian sort of creature, I’ve been wanting for some time to write a post on why the progressive instinct is sometimes the right one. I’m quite certain that neither conservatism nor progressivism, properly understood, is the only possible view for the moral and reasonable citizen — and yet I find myself impeded in this by being in fact a very temperamentally conservative person.
First off, I’d like to suggest that as most precisely used “conservative” and “progressive” (I’m avoiding the term “liberal” here because it strikes me as having an even more confusing and increasingly imprecise meaning) are very relative terms. The progressive seeks to change current social structures, attitudes and political institutions in order to make them better. He seeks to progress. Conservative seeks to preserve existing structures and institutions, and when he accedes to change he urges that it be done slowly in order to avoid the disruption which rapid change often results in.
I would argue that there are some times when we should follow the progressive instinct, others when we should clearly follow the conservative one, and many in which it is a matter of debate which should be followed.
Historically the Catholic Church has had, or has been perceived to have, a rocky relationship with “freedom” in the sense that the term has come to be used in a political and cultural sense since the Enlightenment.
Freedom in the modern sense is often taken to mean, “I’m free to do whatever I want without anyone telling me what to do.” The Church, on the other hand, generally takes freedom to mean, “Freedom to do that which is good.” The Church sees sin as enslaving and as reducing one’s capacity to choose freely in the future, and as such even where acting contrary to the good is in no way forbidden, doing wrong is not seen by the Church as exercising “freedom”.
So the in the moral sense, the Church does not hold “freedom” in the sense of simply doing whatever you want to be a good. Rather, the Church holds doing the good to be the good, and freedom to be the means of achieving that.
I speak above in the moral sense. However, let us look now at the political question of freedom.
One of the arguments I’m starting to get very tired of is that when Senator Obama addressed Planned Parenthood and promised that the first thing he would do as President would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (thus cementing a more drastic pro-abortion regime than has ever existed in the US to day) he was obviously just scoring partisan political points, and that Catholics are not only ill advised to worry about FOCA passing and being signed but that if they do so they are actively behaving in bad faith by accusing Obama of supporting something he never really meant to do.
I don’t think it’s news to anyone that politicians often pander, and to anyone who doubted it in the first place it’s increasingly clear that the only difference between Obama’s “new politics” and the old kind of politics is that the “new politics” involves Obama being president. But even if it’s common knowledge that one of the good ways of knowing that a politician is lying is to see if his mouth is moving, I don’t see how we can even discuss politics if we don’t assume that the promises which a politician expressly makes on the campaign trial represent something which the politician at least thinks would be a good idea.
Whether the next four years are spend under an Obama administration or a McCain administration, one thing that may be said with certainty is that conservatives are going to have to do some serious thinking over that time in order to come up with an agenda that can bring conservatives back into political success — and bring the GOP back into something like conservatism. Either administration will be enough to make principled conservatives cringe — though I think that an Obama one would visit greater damage upon the country.
There are lots of contenders out there wanting present the new conservative policies that will bring the GOP back to relevance. Ross Douthat is very much at the forefront of that, with his Grand New Party out in bookstores.
“If you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the court. I think where it succeeded was to invest formal rights in previously dispossessed people, so that now I would have the right to vote. I would now be able to sit at the lunch counter and order as long as I could pay for it I’d be o.k. But, the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and of more basic issues such as political and economic justice in society.