Monday, January 4, 2016

Conservative Socialists, or What's In It For Me?

The myth of the rugged individual pulling himself up entirely by his boot-straps is often that - a myth.

I harp a lot about personal choice here - how it affects your life far more than social trends, what the political parties are doing, or what laws Congress enacts.   When it all comes down to it, your personal choices affect your life far more than anything else.

This is not, however, to say that other factors don't affect your life, or that you can simply become wealthy by willing it to be so.   You'll need help along the way, and fortunately, most people you meet in life genuinely want to see you succeed and will provide help and guidance along the way.

And we all get to where we are with the help of others.   Either parents or other relatives, or friends, co-workers, employers, or even the Federal Government.

Myself, I would not be where I am today without this kind of help.   While I did work hard, from age 13 onward, and spent years in night school and worked multiple jobs, I also got financial aid, subsidized student loans, and even help from my parents.   I had a subsidized "Farmers Home" mortgage on my first house, and never would have qualified for my second without the FHA financing.   My employers paid my tuition, as well as a paycheck.   I was fortunate enough to learn a trade from older attorneys who took the time to explain things to me (and whack me on the head for being a weak thinker on occasion).   No one does it alone, unless you live on a desert island.

However, there are a lot of people on the far-right who believe they truly are "self-made men" and that the government's job is to "get out of the way!" and let them succeed.

Get out of the way, that is, unless they want something from the government, such as money, tax abatements, subsidies, or just free shit in general.

What got me started thinking about this was an article in Sport Aviation that was decrying the idea of privatizing air traffic control in this country.  Usually, Republicans are big on privatizing things, usually because their corporate sponsors end up getting these contracts.  And most Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) members are staunch Republicans.   If you want to hear a lot of Hillary-bashing, go to Oshkosh sometime.

So I thought it was odd that the EAA would be against privatization, which after all was the watch-word of the Reagan Administration.

You see, the catch is, privatizing air traffic control will cost money.   ATC centers are run by the government, and the government picks up the tab.  Yes, airports charge landing fees and whatnot, and commercial aviation pays the bulk of these costs.   General Aviation pilots still pay an awful lot to fly (it is not a cheap hobby!) but in general, end up getting a lot of things for free (or reduced cost)  - that they don't realize are free or subsidized by others.   And Air Traffic Control is one of them.

So here you have Republicans decrying privatization because they might actually have to pay their way for a change.   In other words, they are conservative socialists.

And you see this in a lot of other areas as well.   Federal lands, for example, are leased out for ridiculously low fees to ranchers for grazing lands.   These "rugged independent self-made men" are self-made on the government's dime - and many make huge amounts of money at this.   But when it comes time to actually pay the government, they want "government off my back!" which translated means, "Socialism for me, fuck you to everyone else!"

And so on and so forth, from mineral rights to oil rights to water rights, or whatever.   We give this stuff away (or sell it for far below market value) to a select few, who in turn decry the rest of us for suckling from the government teat.   They even go so far as to say that Federal Lands should be given to the States and then given to them which sounds like a swell idea (for them) until they get the property tax bill from the county, at which point they will again howl like small children.

This goes on in all walks of life.   Truckers make a living from our Interstate highway system, which costs trillions to build, and billions each year to maintain.   I saw a sign once on the back of a truck that read, "This truck pays $25,000 a year in highway taxes!" - as if this was a fair trade for the $100,000 worth of road the truck tears up each year (a single mile of highway can cost a million dollars or more to build or even re-pave.   And trucks tear up the roads at a rate far, far higher than all the automobile traffic combined).

So, we give away a lot of things to a lot of people.  Why do we do this?   Well, we do want to encourage people to raise cattle so we all can eat.   We want to encourage people to drive trucks, so we can all ship things.    Maybe we subsidize these businesses a bit, but we do so because there is a greater good involved and it is a matter of good public policy.

And this is true in every facet of our lives and our businesses.   From agriculture to manufacturing to home building, there are subsidies and giveaways to tax breaks and even tax credits, to encourage people to do things we like and dissuade them from things we don't like.  Sometimes these subsidies make sense, sometimes they are outdated, other times, special interests keep them in place long after they no longer make sense.

For example, Donald Trump built a lot of apartment buildings and made a lot of money (and then lost most of it in the casino business).   But along the way, he got tax abatement (for a decade or more) and subsidized lending and funds from the government (often designed to promote low-income housing!).   He may claim to be a "self-made man", but without government largess, it is unlikely that he would have amounted to much at all.

This is not to say that personal choices, hard work, and determination have no effect on anyone's life.   People who work hard end up succeeding more often than not.   What you do with your life, the choices you make, are paramount.

But to claim that you "did it all by yourself" is, in many cases, totally disingenuous.