Dear Politicians and Zealots: I am not a Conservative. Or a Liberal. Or a Libertarian, or a Socialist. I am a Realist – I Want What Works and is Fair. Most of us don’t fit into your convenient categories.
I am, however, conservative, and liberal, and libertarian, and communitarian, and a social democrat. Everybody is right…partly. Nobody has the whole puzzle, but each group/ideology has a piece or two. Unfortunately, we have been effectively polarized into competing camps, so now each group is trying to force their ideology on the other rather than seeing the commonalities. Or even, hard to accept, I know, learning from each other, because none of them has “the” solution, although you would never know that from talking to them.
What I want, and what I think most of us want, is what works and what’s fair. I don’t care what your theory says if it doesn’t work or if it requires screwing people over. If it has been tried and failed, let it go. Politics is not religion, requiring blind faith in the unknown; we have lots of failed experiments to not repeat, and even a few successes. Take the pieces that work from each ideology and toss the rest.
Here are some of the useful core values of each group; I ignore the perverted values and logic that many people in each group have adopted.
Libertarians and Conservatives
There is a truth at the core of Libertarianism/Conservatism that we should all respect: Individuals have rights – this was the great truth that the Founding Fathers of the United States of America brought into the world. “We hold these truths to be self-evident….” Those truths were not at all self-evident to most people at the time, but thanks to the example set by the U.S.A, they now are. Before that time, it was ‘self-evident’ to the ruling class that they had the right to do whatever they damn well pleased.
Unfortunately, the Americans have spent the last 200 years trying to eliminate the rights of individual humans and give them to corporations instead, and have finally succeeded with the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that corporations are people. Except, of course, that they are quite obviously not.
The Libertarians and Conservatives have also noted, quite correctly, that most governments are corrupt. This is not new: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” was said in 1887. It is a lesson the conservatives keep trying to tell us, but that liberals largely ignore. The conservatives also conveniently ignore the corruption on their own side.
In the health care debate in the United States, conservatives commonly claim that the government is far too corrupt and/or incompetent to be trusted to run health care. They are quite correct. The United States government cannot be trusted, and public health care will certainly result in a ‘healthcare-industrial complex,’ just as the U.S. has long had a military-industrial complex, an energy-industrial complex, and now even a prison-industrial complex. That the healthcare-industrial complex may be somewhat better than the current mess is not good enough. This is why conservatives argue for small government.
Flowing from this, subsidies are also bad. They do distort the market, and they do become permanent. Once any subsidy is put in place, a vested interest automatically arises to defend it, whether it’s for farming or steel. One of the reasons we are facing the deadly issues of peak oil and climate change today is because we have subsidised oil for many years.
It is important to note that subsidies can take many forms; this is often overlooked by today’s conservatives. Building highways with taxpayer dollars is, in effect, a subsidy to the oil, auto, and trucking industries at the expense of the most efficient mode of transportation: trains. The massive U.S. military presence in the Middle East is an indirect support to the oil companies.
Liberals and Communitarians
Liberals realize that social stability is only possible if there is a large and secure middle class, and ideally no poor. There must be opportunities to build a secure life, or people will get restless; people with nothing to lose are very dangerous. Thus the liberals have many government programs to help the poor and disadvantaged.
These programs are far less likely to create vested interests to support them, because the poor are not nearly as organised and certainly nowhere near as well-funded as corporations receiving subsidies. Furthermore, the more successful the programs to lift people out of poverty, the fewer poor people there are. The reverse is true with corporate subsidies; the more we give them, the more they spend on perverting government to get more.
Communitarians – not communists – know that the community also has rights. That is, a group of people living in a certain area have rights that take precedence over, say, a rich investor or global corporation seeking only profit. If you can’t do something with the agreement of the local people, then you can’t do it – no matter how much money you will make or how you justify it with your theories.
Socialism in the sense of Communism, where the state exerts overwhelming centralised control over the economy, is dead. It has failed so obviously that no sensible person seriously considers going that route today. Every time it has been tried, a murderous dictatorship results.
Social democracy is a mix of markets and reasonably honest government regulation. Government is kept honest by electoral systems like proportional representation and openness. (Why should a citizen have to file a freedom-of-information request? Why, in this age of the Internet and when all documents are on computers anyway, aren’t all government documents automatically posted publicly, from meetings of minutes to detailed budgets? The only reason is because someone is trying to hide something.)
Social democracy as practised in the Scandinavian countries, Germany, and a few others, seems the most workable system so far. It helps explain why Denmark and Germany are the world’s leading manufacturers of wind energy, for example, or why the European Union follows the precautionary principle rather than allowing corporations to test their products on an unwitting populace, or why their economies suffered considerably less during the recent U.S.-caused meltdown.
Do What Works in Reality, Not What Sounds Good in Theory
To listen to Libertarians and Conservatives, deregulation is The Answer. Get the government out of the way, they say. But it is long past time to admit that deregulation of powerful corporations leads to big problems. We have plenty of evidence; let’s stop pushing that failed theory. It didn’t work in reality.
And, unfortunately, while I am normally dead-set against subsidies, there are times when they are necessary – during a war, for example. The market will not defend your country from invasion. In our case, we face peak oil and climate change, both threats that exceed the danger of any war except nuclear. Had we not subsidised an oil economy, we probably would not be in this situation now, but we did, didn’t we?
Ideally, we could simply stop all subsidies to fossil fuels and the market would then favour wind, solar, conservation, etc. Unfortunately, we don’t have time. We need a World War II-level of mobilisation to rebuild our railways, to revamp our suburban style of living, and to move to non-fossil fuel-based agriculture. If we wait for the market to fix this, we’ll be back in the Bronze Age and there will be mass suffering.
Even more unfortunately – liberals, I’m talking to you – our governments are too corrupted by vested interests to be trusted with this scale of expenditure and control. Look at the billions thrown at the banking sector, or the much smaller amounts given to the auto industry. The wise thing to do would have been to let the auto companies fail and put the money into rebuilding the train system.
So, if I am to be true to reality, I have to admit that we are stuck. We do not face a problem, we are in a predicament. Problems have solutions. Predicaments may not. We have allowed our governments to become too corrupted to do what must be done to save us.
The result is almost certain to be a crash. Unless some Winston Churchill-like figure arises and leads us to a better future, we will have to go through a crisis. What will emerge post-crisis is impossible to say. Could be something that works; more likely a dictatorship.