Computer problems have limited my internet activity to my phone for the last few days, and because of that, I've not gotten to discuss a number of things that have caught my eye. I'm back on a computer now though. I want to discuss a particularly egregious piece by Matt Ridley on the supposed benefits of carbon dioxide, but before I can do that, I have to discuss something that came up while I was offline.
Now, I normally don't talk about politics. Today I'm going to. There was a primary for the Democratic party to see who will run for president to try to succeed Barack Obama, and it had this remarkable statement from one contender:
COOPER: Senator Sanders, greatest national security threat?
SANDERS: The scientific community is telling us that if we do not address the global crisis of climate change, transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy, the planet that we're going to be leaving our kids and our grandchildren may well not be habitable. That is a major crisis.
That is Bernie Sanders, saying global warming is the greatest national security threat for the United States. That alone would be stupid enough, but Sanders has the audacity to claim global warming could cause "the planet that we're going to be leaving our kids and our grandchildren" to "not be habitable." I don't have words for how idiotic a statement that is.
And I wanted to talk about that, because I find it hilarious Sanders says things like that and then turns around and says:
And let me also tell you that nothing is gonna happen unless we are prepared to deal with campaign finance reform, because the fossil fuel industry is funding the Republican Party, which denies the reality of climate change...
There's a word which starts with the letter 'd' that comes to mind for people who believe global warming will render the planet uninhabitable - delusional. Unfortunately, that's not what I have to discuss today. Today I have to discuss communism, because people discussing politics are stupid. Or delusional. Or something.
I don't know just what it is about politics, but every time I get dragged into a debate over any political subject, I just wind up concluding both sides are horrible. That's what happened here. I heard about Sanders's remarks during the debate and thought about writing something. Then I saw this article on Twitter, which begins:
At the first Democratic Presidential debate last week, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) pitched his “democratic socialism” to the American public.
Focusing on what he views as an immoral and outrageous income gap, Sanders passionately made the case for a society in which no man earns less than another simply because of the amount of work each puts into their living.
I hadn't watched the debate, but I was extremely skeptical when I read this. The idea any presidential candidate would suggest all people should make the same amount of money seemed absurd. Few enough people even believe that. The odds one of them would have made it to a national primary should be nil. My skepticism only grew as the article went on to say:
Anderson Cooper’s question about how “any kind of socialist” could win a general election in the United States was met with justifications for why a Robin Hood-type system is just the jolt this country needs to regain its moral footing. There is, however, a gaping hole in Sanders’s argument – one that definitively defines those in need as inferior and forces them into a lower psychological class than those who are better off.
About this point is where a normal argument would involve actually describing what Sanders said, likely with a quote or three. Instead, we get wonderfully vague remarks about how Sanders "definitely defines" one class of people as inferior and "a lower psychological class." There's no argument here. There's no citation or quotation. All there is is the claim Sanders "definitely defines" things one way.
And the article doesn't go on to justify this. Instead, it talks about the differences in taxes paid by the wealthy than the poor then says:
While the substantial gap in wealth between income brackets is certainly not preferable, one must also consider the amount paid in taxes by the top income earners before making claims accusing the rich of hoarding wealth and making no return. Sanders’s claim of immorality in income differences falls on its face when compared to the actual amounts paid back in taxes by the richest income earners; those who earn the most are already paying more than their fair share of taxes. Contrary to what the Senator is saying, it would be immoral to impose an even larger tax on the top income earners solely because they take in substantial incomes.
Again, we have nothing but rhetoric. The article makes plenty of assertions, but it does nothing to support any of them. It portrays Sanders as having accused the wealthy of "making no return" as though they don't pay a greater share of taxes than the poor. Did he? The article doesn't give any evidence to show he did.
It claims income inequality cannot be immoral because the wealthy pay a greater share in taxes than the less wealthy. Why? It doesn't say. This is just an assertion. There is no explanation or argument as to what makes this moral or immoral.
It claims it would be immoral to raise taxes on the wealthy solely because of their income inequality. Again, why? What determines whether that would be moral or immoral? What is the standard being used? The article never says. The lack of explanation for anything being said in the article just becomes more obvious as the piece goes on, with the next sentence saying:
It is safe to assume that if you either work your way or are born into a wealthy family, you should be able to keep as much of that wealth as possible.
Safe to assume? How does one make moral pronouncements on the logical basis it is "safe to assume" they are true? How does one decide:
It was earned, whether by you or the generation before to provide for you; this inequality, while unfortunate, is not immoral.
Morality is a complex matter. Often, there are no objective answers. There are no facts or absolute truths. Different people have different beliefs. Simply stating what our beliefs are cannot lead to a discussion. A discussion happens when we explain the reasons for our beliefs and examine how they are similar and dissimilar to the reasons for other people's beliefs.
And that goes back to why I say politics is stupid. This article isn't about making an argument; it's just getting rhetoric out there. It isn't about rebutting anything Bernie Sanders said; it's stating talking points. It isn't about having a discussion; it's about preaching to the choir. We can tell this because nobody who was actually trying to have a discussion would say:
Looking back to the lower income brackets, one can easily see that the plan Sanders is advocating would only leave them further in debt and with greater struggles. By invoking Robin Hood and taking from the rich to give to the poor, you remove the desire of the latter to better himself and his family. You can’t blame him, really – if money is being handed to you simply because you have less than others and you are given no incentive to work toward that extra income, most people would take the gift of freebies and run with it. And even if, on the other hand, this inequality is dealt with by raising the minimum wage, it still leaves that lower-income citizen in an unfavorable position; do we want to encourage people to keep flipping burgers for their careers?
Sanders never said hand money to the poor. He said things like:
Are we better off today than we were then? Absolutely. But the truth is that for the 40 years, the great middle class of this country has been disappearing. And in my view what we need to do is create millions of jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure; raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour; pay equity for women workers; and our disastrous trade policies, which have cost us millions of jobs; and make every public college and university in this country tuition free.
SANDERS: Yeah, Dana, here's the point: Every other major country on Earth, every one, including some small countries, say that when a mother has a baby, she should stay home with that baby. We are the only major country. That is an international embarrassment that we do not provide family -- paid family and medical leave.
Paid maternity leave, free college tuition, nationalized medical care and a raised minimum wage do no involve simply handing people money. So when the article says:
And even if, on the other hand, this inequality is dealt with by raising the minimum wage, it still leaves that lower-income citizen in an unfavorable position; do we want to encourage people to keep flipping burgers for their careers? If we raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, most people will be flipping burgers for centuries.
Even if? The "even if" scenario it describes is the real scenario, the only scenario Sanders actually discussed. The article completely and utterly misrepresents his stated plan then turns around and in a backhanded way discusses what the plan might entail. No rational minded person looking for an actual discussion would do that.
But even when the article does discuss what Sanders said, it still can't get things right. A $15 minimum wage might be a bad idea. There might be good reasons to argue against it. The idea it would keep most people working minimum wage jobs for centuries is not one, not even if we make allowances for rhetorical exaggerations.
(I need to take a moment here. I'll talk about my general views later in the post, but I just want to point out the idea of instituting a national minimum wage of $15 is insane. The differences in cost of living across this nation are far too large for such a plan to make any sense.)
Now, I don't know what the author of this article was thinking. The gross misrepresentations in this article indicate a serious problem, but I have no idea what that problem is. It could be the author intentionally misrepresented Bernie Sanders for the rhetorical effect of being able to write a piece that's no better than shouting, "You dirty commie!"
Or maybe the author is sincere and delusional. Or maybe the author is an idiot, incapable of understanding simple sentences. I don't know. What I do know is she sounds like a raving lunatic when she says:
Perhaps the most glaring immorality seen in this proposal is the degradation of human life that occurs. While this is often a sentiment used to describe issues like abortion and slavery, I believe it is relevant here as well. By attempting to distribute wealth evenly among all income brackets with no regard for the work put in at each respective level, you degrade the poor to less than the rich and insinuate that the former is incapable of surviving without the latter. What a sentiment to embody in what is supposed to be the land of equal opportunity!
Sanders never said a word to suggest he wants "to distribute wealth evenly among all income brackets," much less that he wants to do so "with no regard for the work put in at each respective level." What he said is the massive amount of income inequality that currently exists is immoral and inexcusable. There is plenty of room between those two extremes.
In fact, most rational people would agree neither extreme is good. Unchecked capitalism has long been known to be a bad idea due to the abuses it leads to by the wealthy and powerful. Income inequality is similar to this. Most people will agree if income inequality grows to significant enough levels, the situation will become untenable.
On the other hand, full fledged communism is bad for reasons other than just the corruption and tyranny that has tended to come with it. Its problems are basically the ones this article talks about. Most people will agree forcing everybody to have equal income/wealth is unfair and will leads to an untenable situation.
Neither extreme is good. This is something pretty much everyone can agree on. The disagreements are about where in the spectrum between the two extremes we should be. Sanders thinks the United States has gone too far toward one extreme and wants the nation to take steps to move more toward the other. Whether you agree or disagree with him, he is certainly not saying what this article claims. Moving a bit in on direction is not the same as jumping all the way to one extreme
But that's what this article presents it as so it can say things like:
Sorry, Senator Sanders. Your plan is immorality at the root and the inequality you loathe, while certainly undesirable, is not the great moral injustice that you claim.
This is why I normally don't talk about politics. This article is not some exception to the norm. This is a common thing in politics. People on both sides of disagreements come up with ridiculous exaggerations and misrepresentations of the people they disagree with so they can portray any views they dislike as insane. It's great for boosting their self-confidence. It's horrible for anything else.
I think Sanders is wrong about raising the minimum wage to $15. I think the idea of pay equality for women is a good idea, though the problem has been exaggerated (maternity leave should be added though). I think Sanders is spot on about the United States needing to reassess its trade relations. I think he sounds insane when it comes to global warming. Most importantly though, I think Sanders is right that income inequality is a serious problem, but I don't think it's a moral one.
That's a sample of my views. I don't think a person has to be insane to disagree with them. I'd be happy to discuss the reasons for any of them. I just don't think there's any point as long as political discussions are dominated by people who aren't even trying to understand one another. When people are so polarized you can't have any sort of actual discussion, I'd rather just ignore it all.
Incidentally, while I think income inequality is a serious problem, I don't think that necessarily means we need to change our approach to taxation. I think there are definitely changes to the tax code that should be made (because there's a lot of stupid stuff in there), but one approach to addressing income inequality is to try to address the cause of it.
And in that regard, I think some things that could be done are to improve the education system, to try to reduce the number of broken families (e.g. free birth control should be available to everybody) and to restructure affirmative action to be based on economic rather than ethnic situation. I doubt I'll find that discussion anywhere though, so I'll just leave you with this clip I love: