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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Does Individual Liberty Produce The Most Entitlements

The battle cry of today's Conservative tends to express the following sentiments:


  • Give me liberty or I'll give you death
    and
  • Don't tread on me bro
What liberty is being referenced here? It is that of the individual including private property rights. To whom are these sentiments being expressed? It is to the government. These Conservatives believe that since government, per se, is a potential threat to individual liberty and rights, it must be kept on a short leash inside an electric fence in yard that is surrounded a resurrected Berlin Wall. Such is the only container that guarantees the rights and freedom of the individual which, in turn, provides the most fertile ground for the flourishing of human ingenuity and industry. 

Of course these Conservatives do believe that government should occasionally be allowed outside for a purpose-driven walk. The reason the walks is to scare away or fight stray governments or others who threaten to desecrate one's property or attack one's person. But then government must be quickly returned back to its yard lest it forgets that it is merely a pet or servant while the individual is the master.

This conservative view of government is proclaimed with much pomp and circumstance because it has merits after one considers specific governments from both the past and the present. However, when government is opposed in principle in order to provide a hedge against tyranny, a barrier to any meaningful democracy is also being created. How? Since any meaningful democratic government is representing the will of the people, limiting the role of government is to limit corporate liberty, the freedom of the group. In other words, the job of a democratic government is to express the will of the people as a collective. And it sometimes has to address the impact that individual liberty can have on the people. Labor and environmental protection laws are examples of how the government can express the will of the people to the individual who has a business.

What is the Conservative's alternative solution to using government to curb the abusive actions of individuals ? It is the Free Market. The Free Market is the Conservative's Superman in that it is portrayed as being invulnerable to attacks. The Free Market promises to punish most wrongdoers with failure. For example, the Free Market had the capacity to prohibit the past sins of our financial institutions by not providing for bailouts. Those businesses that escape the clutches of the Free Market and break the law are then sent to the government to receive their punishment. 

But here we need to stop. We need to ask, how can the Free Market weed out those who use liberty as a license to hurt others? We also need to ask, when would those who care first about personal profit mingle and even cooperate with those from the lower economic classes? This concern only arises when it is beneficial to the rich such as when they are financially depending on those from the lower economic classes. In other words, in most cases, concern for the welfare of the lower classes by those with wealth is self-serving. And we should ask, how the Free Market can weed out those who use their liberty to harm others when abusing others is rewarded in the marketplace? Examples of these abuses can be seen in the use of foreign sweatshop labor. 

Likewise, when will government step in and help the lower classes? In states that are fleeing true democracy, government serves others with the same self-interest described above.

All of this brings up a couple of crucial points about our Capitalist system. The first point is that our Capitalist system seems to be at odds with documents like The Declaration Of Independence in determining the value of each person. Whereas The Declaration assumes that each person has an intrinsic value, as shown in declaring certain rights to be inalienable, our Capitalist economic system only recognizes each person by their extrinsic value, which is measured by the financial gain they have to offer to others. There is no need to ask my fellow Christian fundamentalist nerds which approach is more biblical here. 

The second point that bears mentioning is that globalization and technology has made the extrinsic value of each person from the middle and lower classes very volatile. This is because the more jobs that can be lost due to either outsourcing or new technology, the less that those in these classes have to offer to both the rich and the government. Thus, those in the upper class have less incentive to even interact with or care about those in the lower economic classes, which is contrary to how De Tocqueville described the relationship between the two (click here and read paragraphs #3 and #7).

Likewise, if we look at government as being either the writer of rules to maintain the social order or an arbitrator of disputes between individuals, what incentive do our elected officials, who are more dependent on campaign contributions than they are on the votes of the compliant, have to serve the interests of those who are losing their value in society (click here for reference on the role of government)?

Despite these two points, and much evidence, what we hear from Conservatives are hypotheses disguised as mathematical theorems. For while they stress how their emphasis on individual liberty and property rights when combined with just a touch of governmental control will motivate people to act properly and treat each other fairly, both history and current events beg to differ. And yet their challenges are dismissed by scapegoating the government for interfering with the Free Market. And conservative Christians should note here how conservative economists have claimed to be able to make a perfect theoretical creation called the Free Market.

In the meantime, the culture war between The Declaration Of Independence, with its claim that each person has an intrinsic value, vs our Capitalist system, which counters by honoring only those who have extrinsic value, wages in the battlefields of our local, state, and federal governments as well as the market place. The key to victory for The Declaration Of Independence is to appeal to morality. If The Declaration wins, our economic system will be designed to serve the people. But if our Capitalist system wins, then we will have a government that will serve those with wealth and an economic system that will continue to divide the people into three groups: the rich, those who serve the interests of the rich, and those who either are expendable or who have become surplus people. 

And here, we must ask the Church this question, "Whose side are you on?" The Church's answer will reveal whether the Church is serving God or mammon. 

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