Member Rara Avis
The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. It isn't artificial barriers that cause this to happen -- it is the absolute design and function of capitalism. A lesson we all learned around the Parker Brother's Monopoly board.
Reb, I don't dispute that Smith's pure laissez-faire capitalism leads to inevitable excesses in the long term. Those excesses, however, are the exception rather than the rule, and the government intervention required to abate those excesses should be equally rare. If the rich always get richer, someone apparently forgot to tell that to the Big Three car makers who have watched their world domination wither and die in the past forty years. If the poor always get poorer, someone forgot to tell that to the post-War Japanese who decided they could manufacture and market cars better. So what does our government do when Chrysler gets its tail caught in the door? And they dare cite the need for competition as their reasoning?
Aside from a closed system (like we have in Parker Bros. or government regulated utilities), it's questionable whether such a thing as a monopoly is even possible. Certainly, it is unlikely. As long as consumers have the freedom to make choices, there will always be competition. Government's role in protecting Smith's economic system should be limited to enforcing fair business practices. Just because Microsoft has a ton of money in the bank, they shouldn't be allowed to sell below cost and run those without a ton of money out of business. Capitalism needs a little help from the government. VERY little.
Even now, by design, with our engineered monetary policy -- the Fed recognizes that 'full-employment' is a bad thing -- because it's inflationary. Even the 4% unemployment figures they thought was a good number in the Sixties was too low. They now know that if you don't have at least about 5% of the people out of work and facing trauma -- the Economy heats up -- and value is lost. (Now, this could qualify as one of those artificial barriers you refer to -- but it serves the greater good of keeping inflation in check -- right?)
Okay, but what is the *real* correlation between unemployment and inflation? In theory, when unemployment is low, people can hold out for better compensation because the supply of labor is less than the demand. Wages tend to rise, which pushes up the cost of just about everything. Ergo, the rate of inflation increases. The relationship was first described by A. W. Phillips, based on data collected over nearly a hundred years, and came to be known as the Phillips Curve.
Trouble is, the Seventies came along and the Phillips Curve began to break down as the economy suffered from a long bout of both unemployment and inflation rising together (stagflation). That shouldn't be possible according to Phillips. Along came Milton Friedman with a variation on the Phillips Curve, at first called the expectations-augmented Phillips Curve, but later (thankfully) called the Friedman curve. Friedman argued that there were a series of different Phillips Curves for each level of expected inflation. If people expected inflation to occur then they would anticipate and expect a correspondingly higher wage rise. In short, by anticipating inflation, we caused inflation. Proof, once again, that human behavior and mathematics are still poor bedfellows.
Are you suggesting, Reb, that capitalism is immoral because it demands hardship for some to insure prosperity for the many? Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that people are immoral, because they always want more than they have and too often more than they deserve. Low unemployment simply gives them the leverage to have their demands better met.
The other effect of the concentration of wealth is that it crushes one of the other promises of Smith -- that competition benefits society in it's assurance of better products and services. The reason I chose Mac and Beta as examples is because it is a clear example of that failure. The better products were there -- but, as marketing gurus Ries and Trout point out in all their books -- the guy with the most money always wins. Gates had the power and leverage of IBM -- it was IBM's ignorance and arrogance that allowed him to slip away with the dough.
You're assuming, Reb, that your interpretation of "better products and services" is necessarily the correct one. I used to have a lot of clients tell me they wanted us to write an application for them quickly, cheaply, and reliably. I always responded that they could have any two of the three they wanted. People don't buy technology, they buy "the whole product" (a marketing term coined by Geoffrey Moore, in his 1991 book, 'Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers'), of which technology plays only a part.
Betamax and Macintosh may have been technically superior products, but that clearly wasn't what the market wanted. What would have happened if Apple had opened the Mac architecture and allowed cheap clones to run their software? What would have happened if Sony had NOT decided to make smaller, neater tapes that lasted for only one hour of recording?
Reb, if anything, I think the Sony Betamax story is one of why competition always results in the greatest benefits to society and proves the myth of monopoly dangers. Betamax was the first successful video format and for a time had close to 100 percent of the market. It had a de facto monopoly because of tape incompatibilities. Yet it lost its edge to the competition because, at the time, it didn't do what consumers really wanted. It couldn't record a whole movie unattended. VHS manufactures used basically the same technology with a bulkier tape that lasted two hours. Consumers were willing to sacrifice a little better quality to get something that let them do what they wanted. And they did so in droves!
It was capitalism working. Labor and markets shift to the low cost producers. But was it moral to take the jobs away from people who had been doing them here? People who had good work ethics, who were fulfilling their obligation to the company? Just because there was a cheaper wage across the border? Did the company not owe anything at all to the people who were making it successful? Was the weekly wage the extent of the moral obligation?
Reverse that situation for a minute, Reb. Say you've been purchasing gasoline from the same station for the past three years. Suddenly, you find another station, maybe a few miles farther from the house, that is selling the same gas for substantially less. Are you morally obligated to continue buying from the same old place just because they once fulfilled your needs?
The problems you cite, I think, are problems not with capitalism, but rather with nationalism. Tear down all the artificial barriers, and time and capitalism will redistribute the wealth more fairly. Your workers in the maquiladora plants will make substantially more money than in the past, and the displaced workers North of them will eventually make less. The goods produced will also cost less to buy because, in the absence of price fixing, competition will inevitably force prices to reflect the cheaper labor. Most of the problems in our world aren't caused by the limitations of capitalism. They're caused by the limitations ON capitalism. We no longer have the luxury of a national economy, but have to start thinking in terms of a global economy.
The family analogy is driving me nuts. Prolly 'cause it's one that I understand and have some personal issues about, but here goes:
Who decides the cash value of the contribution of each role of each member of the family?
Each of us, I think, has to make that determination for ourselves, Karen. But there's certainly nothing new with that. Whether you're talking cash value or emotional value, every relationship is evaluated (and constantly reevaluated) according to personal standards.
Some people, over the years, have suggested that I'm advocating that people should be more selfish when I advise they should insist on equal value for all concerned. I believe, on the other hand, that I'm asking them to be LESS selfish. I think most of us tolerate poor behavior from others not because we think it will be best for those we love, but because it's easier for ourselves than facing the guilt or the insecurity or the uncertainty of rocking the boat. When we let someone continue to be abusive or lazy or irresponsible, we're not doing them any favors. We're doing ourselves the favor, usually, because we're unwilling to feel "bad."
Tough love is, well, tough. But it's still love, and just maybe it's the deepest and most unselfish of all loves.
But isn't a moral action one that doesn't take into account the benefit that one receives from taking it. (I know, I know, this is the kicker).
See my answer to Karen above, Brad. Forcing people to take responsibility for themselves, at least insofar as they are able, usually isn't easy for most of us and usually isn't done for our own benefit.
The paradox you're building, however, is that making charity a moral issue precludes it being a legal one. If you legislate the feeding of the poor, either through law or social pressure, it can no longer be done for the "right" reasons you've cited above. By your own reasoning, forced morality is no longer morality.
Sometimes, I get the feeling that none of you has ever really known the fear and terror..nothing to eat, no way to get at what is in front of others, except perhaps, by stealing.
I've not only been there, Kacy, but I've been there two separate times in my life. And, yea, it's damn frightening when crackers and raw hot dogs seem like a delicacy. I took risks, the dice came up craps, and I paid heavily for some bad decisions. For a long time, I thought I had lost nearly three years of my life to my own foolishness, but in retrospect, the price I paid inevitably became a part of who I would become. I'm not sure I would have learned the same lessons from those experiences had someone else paid the consequences for me. Hunger hurts, fear hurts even more, but if we can just survive, they make damn good teachers.
And Rawl's Veil of Ignorance goes directly to Ron's point;
I've invoked the Veil of Ignorance many times in many threads, although I prefer to do so in a way I've always felt was much more persuasive. For example, in a recent thread I insisted that religious freedom was important because, even though I might enjoy majority support today, my children might one day find themselves in the minority. It is difficult, I think, to "hide" my own station behind Rawl's Veil when deciding what is right, but it is equally difficult to "know" the station those I love will one day occupy.
And, yes, it goes directly to my points here and elsewhere, because I think each of us should assume our children will face the worst possible situations and do what we can today to protect them no matter where they find themselves in that society.
There seems to be a jump in opinion to always assume that people who are starving aren't working -- while in fact we probably have the largest problem amongst the working poor. They don't get the foodstamps, WIC, or AFDC. Latest stats for California show that only 45% of the people who need foodstamps actually make it into the program.
Reb, I agree we can't assume that the hungry or homeless are simply lazy. Indeed, in my opinion, most are the victims of poor decisions rather than a reluctance to work. They have more kids than they can feed, they think a TV is more important than an education, and too many honestly believe the weekends were invented to get drunk or high. Social welfare, however, at least in its current incarnation, simply reinforces and perpetuates those bad decisions, not just in the present generation but throughout succeeding generations. We've built a structure wherein those 55 percent of people who need food stamps and can't get them don't even consider the role their own decisions have played in their lives. Instead, they blame the government for not giving them that to which they feel they are entitled.
True story: L is disabled and lives on $650 a month Social Security, supplemented by about $50 in food stamps. When his television set blew up last year, he couldn't come up with enough money to buy a new one, but he could swing fifty bucks to rent one. One year and six hundred dollars later, he owned a 19 inch set anyone could buy at Wal-Mart for about $150.
I don't know what the right answer is, but I'm convinced that simply giving people money and food is the wrong one. I don't believe we can make people's decisions for them. Yet, if we are to give them the freedom to make their own decisions, we must also let them face the consequences of those decisions. That, coupled with more affirmative guidance, is the first step to education.
What of Seniors living on Social Security who spend most of the money they get on medicine -- they can't qualify for other assistance because they're getting too much from SS.
The real question is in the first seven words, Reb. What of Seniors living on Social Security?
Social Security was designed to be a supplement to retirement, not a replacement for planning. Unfortunately, it seems to have conditioned an entire generation into thinking they no longer have to plan for their own future. Worse, I think it has conditioned another generation into abrogating their responsibility to their parents and grandparents. The extended family has pretty much gone the way of tyrannous rex, and society is the poorer for its demise.
Seniors living on SS have a whole lifetime of the same mistake made by L when he thought only in the short term about this month's need for television. As long as society continues to PAY people for making such mistakes, they'll continue to make the same or similar mistakes.
Again, I don't know the right answer. I'm just convinced we haven't found it yet and should keep looking. If Brad is right and morality depends on ignoring the benefits received, we should stop taking the easy ways out that simply makes us all feel good about ourselves without really solving any of the problems. Love thy neighbor is damn good advice, but tough love has to remain part of the recipe, too. Mistakes only serve a purpose when we allow people to learn from them and grow beyond them.