Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Political Myth-Making

Humans are funny creatures. We are driven by basic needs, urges, and instincts like any animal, but we strangely are driven by symbols and ideas. Propaganda is a set of ideas shaped to control people's thinking and actions. The US in the last 40 years has fallen sway to right wing fanatics with a poisonous brew of propaganda that has won the hearts and minds of roughly a third of the population. The price for this debasement of political ideas, dialog, and debate can be seen in the broken politics of Washington.

Here is a bit from an article by William K. Black about the poison of selling the simplistic idea that America is divided between "makers and takers". (For details on Black, refer to his Wikipedia entry.)
Moore’s column deplores the debasement of the American economy by government employees.
“More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined. We have moved decisively from a nation of makers to a nation of takers.”
The claim that employees involved in making physical things that are purchased in the markets are uniquely valorous is an odd argument for someone with his professional career (Moore ran the ultra conservative, “supply side” anti-tax group, the Club for Growth). The trade and tax policies he embraces encouraged U.S. businesses to export their manufacturing plants (and their jobs) to low-wage/low-tax nations and to import food produced in those low-wage/low-tax nations. Moore has praised both states and nations that serve as tax havens. He has singled out the Texas model – low wage, low tax, low government services, and hostile to safety rules. Moore has worked for years to punish the “makers” and produce the condition he deplores in which the number of U.S. “makers” has fallen sharply. His column decries the budgetary crises in states and localities, but it was the Great Recession driven by the criminogenic environment his anti-regulatory policies created together with the anti-tax hysteria generated by his repeatedly falsified fantasy that slashing taxes for the rich increases tax revenues that drove that budgetary crisis. Architects of the crisis like Moore who write primarily to excuse their consistent failures should stop. They have done enough damage to the world for a dozen lifetimes.

Consider the implications of Moore’s assertion that people who do not work in manufacturing and farming are “takers.” Under this dichotomy the world is divided between “makers” and “takers,” the biggest “takers” in the world work on Wall Street, the City of London, and the worst kleptocracies – the Wall Street Journal’s core readership. If “makers” of manufactured goods and crops are uniquely valorous, then Moore’s logic requires that it is the workers in these sectors – not the managers, professionals, and clerical workers – who are the actual “makers” who embody that unique valor. (Again, it is passing strange that Moore has dedicated his life to rewarding these uniquely valorous Americans by exporting their jobs and leaving them unemployed or employed at lower wages.) If one can claim to be a “maker” by performing functions that merely assist the actual “makers” make things, then we are all “makers.”

Moore, however, implicitly makes two assertions about government employees – all government employees are “takers” and only government employees are “takers.” Moore doesn’t attempt to support any of his assertions, and they are logically inconsistent. These truths are apparently self-evident to Mr. Moore – people are not created equal. Americans who choose to be government employees are inferior because they are not endowed by their creator with an adequate taste for risk.
“Surveys of college graduates are finding that more and more of our top minds want to work for the government. Why? Because in recent years only government agencies have been hiring, and because the offer of near lifetime security is highly valued in these times of economic turbulence. When 23-year-olds aren’t willing to take career risks, we have a real problem on our hands. Sadly, we could end up with a generation of Americans who want to work at the Department of Motor Vehicles.”
In Moore’s world, an American who wishes to work as a “maker” and develops the skills to be a “maker” has no inalienable right to a job as a “maker” at a living wage. Why? If (1) there really is something particularly virtuous about working in manufacturing or farming, (2) there are too few Americans working in those industries, and (3) the Americans who wish to work in those industries embrace “tak[ing] career risks” and have prepared themselves by education to be able to be productive “makers” why not commit the U.S. to ensure that these virtuous, risk-loving young people can find jobs in manufacturing and farming in the U.S.

Moore is not strong on nuance. All government employees are “bureaucrats” in his parable of “makers” and “takers.” No corporations are bureaucratic. Moore’s fable is crude propaganda. Let us add some reality. Our largest group of federal employees provides national security (DoD, CIA, NSA, DHS, DOJ/FBI, VA, etc.). Many of these “bureaucrats” are living their parasitical life of ease as “takers” in Iraq and Afghanistan. (The virtuous Taliban are busy being “makers” – cultivating poppies.) I do not recommend telling our troops that they are risk-averse “takers” and bureaucrats. The exact number of federal employees engaged in national security is unknown because many employees in other agencies, e.g., NASA, actually work on national security under various degrees of deliberately misleading information. There are over a million federal military personnel. DoD, Homeland Security (DHS), and the VA have nearly a million civilian employees.
As Black walks you through the "argument" of takers vs. makers, it is quickly obvious that this is not a serious analysis and can't support any real understanding of the economic reality in the US and the value of various jobs in that economy. But this kind of short-circuit to thinking, this propaganda, is the kind of stuff that right wing radio show hosts spew and it gets picked up by those who are uncritical and unwilling to think for themselves. It poisons politics in America until you get the kind of collapse you are seeing as the Republicans play "the card of debt ceiling" in their grand strategy to destroy Obama.

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