November 17th, 2009
As I was talking to my good friend Tim today, he brought up a point which reminded me that I had written this blog post but never published it, so I finally got around to cleaning it up a bit. The main thing that Tim mentioned was about climate change and how that is currently playing second fiddle to more central issues such as healthcare and the wars. While that really might be the case (Tim is rarely wrong), there is still a commonality for us to uncover. The climate change is a socialism issue at heart, just like healthcare. Both issues say that we must make a commitment (and that may have economic and non-economic aspects) to make things better for everyone. In one case (health care), the proponents say that the government should support a health plan that covers people who are not covered by other private plans, even if that incurs some cost. In the case of climate change, the proponents say that we (all nations, all peoples) should try to stop the climate change, even if that incurs some cost (like making free plastic bags illegal). This underlying common thread may just be one reason that there is political alignment between climate change control proponents and government sponsored health plan proponents.
Now of course, no one in America, not even a democrat, wants to be called a socialist. This is just a taboo word, kinda the euphemism for a commie. And even with McCarthy gone from the political landscape, it is a disaster for an American politician to admit anything contrary to US being 100% extra virgin pure capitalist. This debate of course is not a real economic debate, in terms of GDP, capitalism index or other economic concepts, rather it is just labeling game. Go beyond the labels, and no one can argue that the spirit of helping out other people and the belief that everyone (even the weak, the disabled, the differently abled) has certain rights that cannot be taken away. In fact, US is the most disabled friendly country in the world, what with all restaurants and establishments of any non-trivial size subject to the most stringent anti-disability discrimination laws (and that all is a good thing!) And I wasn’t even going to mention the countless soup kitchens and the free flowing cash to the charities.
So, if we go beyond the labels, the question isn’t really whether we are capitalist or whether we are socialist. The question really becomes – how socialist (or how capitalist) are we? Why is it OK for the government to enforce anti disability law, but not to offer a health plan to people (who may be disabled in a slightly different way) who won’t be covered by private health care companies? Who chose to draw that line, and where?
November 10th, 2009
“Kill the bill, kill the bill” the crowds on the capital hill chanted. Any day of the week, any week of the year, you can ask any hard working American – do you want a bigger government? The unanimous answer will be no. None of us want a bigger government just for the sake of a bigger government. But ask the people – do you want to let the wheeling dealing scheming conmen entice hard working Americans (or the local Canadians!) into buying financial instruments (or houses!) that they cannot afford (or if they can, definitely wont be in exactly 1095 days from closing)? Or that, do you want the current economic crisis to take away the prospect of education (or healthcare) from a child whose parents may have lost a job? Aah, it is then that the answer changes to something like, “um, no, govt should probably do something about it”.
You are damn right Joe – government should do something about it.
Thus, the question that should be asked is not about government spending or tax cuts or fiscal deficit, rather the debate has to be on pros and cons of a specific proposal. Anytime a politician offers you a new tax – we should be sure to ask “what is it going to get us in return?”. Ditto for tax cut – “Thanks a lot pres, but can you tell what does that mean in terms of facilities that are going to go away?”.
Years ago when I moved to the US (and years later I heard the French president reiterate that we are all Americans now), I was most surprised to see the size of the American government. A bulky school system – thousands of schools and hundreds of universities. A shiny USPS. Ultra defense spending. Astronomical space agency. All that was (and continues to be) public agencies, right here in the bastion of Capitalism. Then it dawned on me that capitalism is what you define it to be. Facilities that the people are comfortable with (schools, universities, mail trucks) are not the facilities anyone is going to give up that easily (or should). True, the US act of 1970 made the USPS into a semi independent agency that is now revenue neutral, but still it didn’t consider it right to privatize or close it. Why? Because there are somethings you may not want to trust a private company to do (such as creating mailers for visually impaired people).
It even makes sense not to try to classify a nation as capitalist or socialist at all. At what point do cross over from UK to Sweden? Really, there is no solid line (just miles and miles of the Norwegian sea, but I digress). Rather, it makes sense to only define a capitalism index for each country. That will need to be defined carefully however, and I am not going to hazard a definition this very moment. I know I have breached this topic earlier, but perhaps this time I will get more ideas and start working on an actual economics concept. (Really, that will be some day – my computer science doctorate adviser will be well vindicated – “I always knew that Amrinder guy was only trouble”.)