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Conservative Dilemma 2Political Perspective by Daniel Johnson Salem-News.com
The story so far…
(CALGARY, Alberta) - The conclusion from Part 1, for those who understood the argument and did not get sidetracked with the emotion of ideology, is: Conservatism is an opinion, based on assumptions. For liberalism it is the same. (see: The Conservative Dilemma - Political Perspective by Daniel Johnson Salem-News.com)
The ideological conflict between the two worldviews and the source of partisanship arises from one single assumption—a belief in absolutes. In such a psychological situation, for one side to be right everyone else must be wrong.
One commenter wrote:
‘It's all about individual liberty and economics man. Conservatives don't believe in the collective. The bible says thou shalt not kill. (there is no disclaimer for fetuses or overseas brown people) The problem with "liberals" is that they have an intense hatred and disregard for our God given freedoms and the Constitution.”
Several assumptions here. “God given freedoms”. Not everyone believes in the God to whom the commenter refers. If there is no “God” then where to freedoms come from? “Individual liberty and economics” are also matters of opinion. I’ll discuss economics now, and other assumptions in subsequent pieces.
So, prove that there is a god, and the conservative opinion becomes a fact; this is a sensitive point with conservatives.
When Einstein became an American citizen in 1940, there were those who were vigorously against it. In a book titled The Fifth Column in our Schools a contributor said: “If Albert Einstein is right and there is no personal God, then America is founded on fable and falsehood. If there is no God then the citizen has no God-given rights. Then all the rights set forth in the Constitution are sham and delusion. If man has no Creator, then our fathers fought for a lie; then the rights of citizenship are based on a lie. Then Professor Einstein has subscribed to a lie, in the very act of pledging allegiance to a form of government which—according to his philosophy—is founded on a lie.”
And, incidentally, conservatives do believe in a collective. They just give it another name.
But, to proceed…
If conservatives have a common hero, it’s the 18th century moral philosopher and political economist, Adam Smith. He wrote one of the most famous, unread books in the world, Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. Smith is also considered by most to be the father of modern capitalism.
Smith is also misread and misunderstood. Everyone knows that his idea of the Invisible Hand is at the basis of so-called free market economics. This is behind the idea of homo economicus—economic man. Part of his idea is correct. We are guided in our choices by self-interest. But self-interest goes far beyond pecuniary matters. In your own life, recall how many times you have been motivated by other emotions or, if money was involved, you chose less money based on other considerations.
In the US only about 13% of workers are union members—down from a high of 20% in 1983. But there is a significant skew, in that 38% of government employees are union members compared to only 9% in the private sector.
In 2001, full-time wage and salary union members in the US had median weekly earnings of $718, compared with a median of $575 for wage and salary workers not represented by unions—25% higher! Half of the 16.3 million union members in the U.S. lived in six states—California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania; these states accounting for only 35 percent of wage and salary employment nationally. North Carolina and South Carolina had the lowest union participation rates—both below 5%
If people can earn 25% more by being in a union, why isn’t there more union membership? This is where ideology comes into play. People are willing to make less money but feel independent and free. The joke is on them.
Of course, with the current economic meltdown, these numbers will change; and for workers, not for the good.
Jared Bernstein, a former Clinton advisor wrote in the preface to his book, Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed? (And Other Unsolved Economic Mysteries): “Economics has been hijacked by the rich and powerful, and it has been forged into a tool that is being used against the rest of us.”
This was something Smith was well aware of.
Adam Smith: “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind. As soon, therefore, as they could find a method of consuming the whole value of their rents themselves, they had no disposition to share them with any other persons…as soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed.”
The Gini index is a measure economists use to gauge income distribution over a society. A value of 0 means income is equally distributed in a society; a value of 1 means all the income goes to one person. In Smith’s day, the Gini Index would have been very high. In the 1801 census, Great Britain had a population of about nine million people. At the very top, the 287 peers of the realm (representing a few thousand people) received 29% of the national income.
In the U.S. over the last half century the Index was at a low of .348 in 1967. It rose moderately over the next decade and in the early 1980s (the Reagan Revolution) began a more rapid rise, hitting .426 in 1994 and continued to rise to .450 in 2007. Contrary to what the brainwashed believe, the Reagan Revolution was on behalf of the rich, not the conservative working class.
In 1961, Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom was interviewed on the radio and asked how he felt as the rocket was launched. He said: “How would you feel, taking off, sitting up there on top of fifty thousand parts, knowing that every one had been let to the lowest bidder?” The interview was broadcast only once before NASA arrived and confiscated the tape. The astronauts were forbidden, in future, to speak so candidly in public. Like the old Western ballad—“and nary was heard, a discouraging word.”
Archie commented, in part: “Unions are not the creators of the middleclass. Many occupy that class financially, but they are now part of the problem that is destroying the economy, for example the auto industry. Why should members of the UAW get taxpayer bailout funds…”
Good question, Archie. From a particular point of view, the UAW can be seen as part of the problem, but it’s a false perspective. The workers bear no responsibility for the automaker’s plight as they had no role in auto industry decision making since the oil shocks of the early 1970s. In a free enterprise system (you believe in free enterprise, don’t you Archie?) it was expected that they would always bargain for the highest wages. But, as Adam Smith noticed:
“Our merchants and master-manufacturers complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price, and thereby lessening the sale of their goods both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”
Unions give some measure of power to workers in the marketplace. The 20th century history of unionism in America is one of violence, bloodshed and death. Many lives were destroyed, figuratively and actually, to give unions recognition in modern society. Still, conservatism has brainwashed mainly people into believing that unions are anti-American and somehow linked to communism. How the lower ranks of conservatism have been persuaded to act against, not only society, but their own best interests is a sad story in itself.
Smith: “The master can choose his man, but most men cannot choose their master. The master can afford to wait, he is not dependent on this man or that. But, the man must have his job—he cannot wait. In the long run the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him, but the necessity is not so obvious.”
“The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily; and the law, besides, authorizes, or at least does not prohibit their combinations, while it prohibits those of the workmen.”
Adam Smith, were he alive today, would not be a conservative.
Daniel Johnson was born near the midpoint of the twentieth century in Calgary, Alberta. In his teens he knew he was going to be a writer, which is why he was one of only a handful of boys in his high school typing class—a skill he knew was going to be necessary. He defines himself as a social reformer, not a left winger, the latter being an ideological label which, he says, is why he is not an ideologue. From 1975 to 1981 he was reporter, photographer, then editor of the weekly Airdrie Echo. For more than ten years after that he worked with Peter C. Newman, Canada’s top business writer (notably a series of books, The Canadian Establishment). Through this period Daniel also did some national radio and TV broadcasting. He gave up journalism in the early 1980s because he had no interest in being a hack writer for the mainstream media and became a software developer and programmer. He retired from computers last year and is now back to doing what he loves—writing and trying to make the world a better place
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