Sunday, July 1, 2012

Why you can't argue economics with a Republican

I actually noticed this back in the 80's, when convenience store clerks would argue that we couldn't afford to raise the minimum wage. The arguments always went in a circle; first they would claim we couldn't afford welfare, and when I showed how we could, they would switch to how it was immoral to give money to slackers. And when I destroyed that argument, they would switch back to how we couldn't afford it. Repeat, ad nausem.

What I missed at the time is that one of those arguments was simply a red herring. The truth is that Republican economics have never been about prosperity, or wealth, or economics; they have always and only been about morality.

Buried in this article is a quip from another report:

[T]he only social program ever to show documented success in impacting the marriage rates of poor people came in 1994, when the state of Minnesota accidentally reduced the divorce rate among poor black women by allowing them to keep some of their welfare benefits when they went to work rather than cutting them off. During the three-year experiment and for a few years afterward, the divorce rate for black women in the state fell 70 percent. The positive effects on kids also continued for several years.

Of course, no lesson was learned from this experiment, which in itself was accidental. The mere empirical facts were not allowed to interfere with ideological policy.

Reaganomics is not an economic theory, which explains why its adherents are so utterly unconcerned with the economic results of their doctrine. It is a moral position, and because it is embedded in an absolute, supernatural moral system, it (like any other deontological moral theory) is utterly unconcerned with empirical results. Ayn Rand is embraced not for her mathematical evidence (she doesn't have any) but for her narrative framing of a moral theory.

It is what used to be called Social Darwinism: the idea that society, like any other biosystem, rewards the strong and consumes the weak. This also explains their relationship to God, which is not one of a loving parent to a wayward child, but rather one of a powerful agent allying with a chosen people. The God of the Old Testament makes this perfectly clear; He will elevate the Jews above all other peoples as long as they worship him alone. He gets hosannahs and sacrifices; they get the lands of Cannan and all its little girls.

The Republicans have refined their position to the point that this should be obvious now. For example, during the entire Health Care debate, when Republicans were complaining that socialized medicine would bankrupt us, not once did they ever mention the fact that America pays twice as much for medicine as anyone else in the world. How could such an elemental fact of finance escape a financial discussion? Because, as the reaction to the SCOTUS ruling shows, the primary concern was never financial; that was just a smokescreen.

Look at the ongoing reactions - not fear of crushing debt, but fear of socialistic takeover. Some are calling it the death of America. Seriously? Over a freaking 2.5% tax? That's all it took to kill us? But of course it's not about the money.

It is about the moral idea that we owe anything at all to those weaker than ourselves. The ACA enshrines this idea into law, into the social fabric of the nation; and that leaves no room for the Libertarian notion of "I've got mine; screw you!" You might argue that we had already enshrined this notion with welfare, Social Security, and Medicare; but in case you hadn't noticed, the Republicans want to overturn those as well.

Some old-school Republicans still hold to the notion that charity to others is a private duty, not a public one; that the bonds that tie us together as a people must be voluntary instead of compelled by law. Of course they don't extend this the idea of military conscription; I've never met a Republican who thought it was wrong to draft people if that was the only way to save the nation. Still, it was a noble (if impractical) idea. But I don't need to argue against it anymore; Mitt Romney and his cronies have made it clear that their idea of charity is giving to those they like, not those who are in need. Christian charity always carried judgment with it; only the deserving poor were entitled to charity, and guess who decided who was deserving? Romney has only taken that to the next logical step: he still believes in charity for the deserving poor, he just thinks that if you're poor, that's proof you don't deserve anything.

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