Some Of The Blind Spots Of The Left
How the Left accepts the conservative rules that distribute income upwards as if that’s how the economy works.
For as long as I have been politically aware, a certain dynamic has been apparent to me: the right stands for freedom, while the left stands for government encroachment upon our freedoms. At least, that’s the story I’ve been told by both sides. Both the Left and the Right in American politics have been complicit in spreading this myth about what both sides really want.
Conservative Republicans have positioned themselves in the debate as champions of individual freedoms and protectors of unalienable rights enumerated in the Constitution. At the same time, they point to liberals as people who want government intervention in the markets to make things fair. Republicans would have us believe that liberal Democrats just want free stuff.
Conservatives on both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, have bought into the myth that the extreme inequality that we see today is merely a natural result of how free markets work. Never you mind the rules and how they operate on the market. Just know that the reason there are billionaires is that they earned it. Just know that if you work hard and save your money, you too could be a billionaire. That’s the message implied in conservative politics.
You can’t have a big business without big government. The more money you have, the more protection you require from big government intervention to keep it. That means if you want to keep your money, you need protection from more than just the petty thief. You need protection from competition. The world’s first billionaire put it plainly when he said, “Competition is a sin.” That’s John D. Rockefeller talking. He knew that he could not become rich without government intervention in the markets.
This dynamic is something that your local Republican will be hard-pressed to respond to. Every monopoly requires government intervention to exist. Every hoard of money requires government intervention in the markets to exist. McDonald’s could not own all that land without government intervention in the market. Every corporation requires government intervention to exist. Every patent requires government intervention in the markets to exist. Every copyright requires government intervention in the markets to exist. When wages stagnate for 40 years while CEO pay goes up 900%, that’s a sign of government intervention in the market. When employers abuse their employees, they are counting on government intervention in the markets to maintain a captive audience of employees.
So when liberals take note of the extreme inequality in American economics, conservatives will dismiss them as people who just want free stuff. The conservatives I interact with on social media are silent as to these dynamics. They loathe discussing the many ways that the government intervenes in the market to protect and maintain inequality.
I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried, to have an honest and frank discussion of the true source of inequality with conservatives. I’ve yet to get a full-throated response to justify the ways that the government intervenes in the market on behalf of people who already have lots and lots of money. I still have not met a conservative that is willing to discuss this glaring hypocrisy that exists in America today. Few conservatives can tell me how it is that a billionaire can exist in a free market because they don’t want to admit that inequality is a matter of public policy.
Worse yet, I see liberals completely ignoring the obvious ways in which the economy is rigged. Here’s an example, and a fairly recent one at that: Congress has authorized billions to be spent on coronavirus research. This is public tax money funding medical research to come up with a vaccine and a cure for the scourge of the century. The companies that produce a vaccine for the coronavirus will get a patent. The companies that produce a cure for COVID will no doubt get a patent for their new medication with really odd syllables. We will have paid twice for that work. Ask a Republican why that is. Expect silence or platitudes, do not expect substance.
Ask a liberal and they will tell you that we should increase taxes on the companies that do the research. We should control prices on the medicine. I doubt they will consider high falutin’ notions like denying patents for medications that result from government-funded research or making all research results freely available to the public by placing the results in the public domain. Why that would reduce duplication of effort, and that would be efficient! We can’t have that!
The traditional liberal seems only concerned with addressing inequality after the fact rather than looking at the symptoms of the disease of government-sponsored inequality.
Union membership has dwindled since the 1970s not because that's how the free market works. Union formation is a natural consequence of monopsony in the labor markets. Unions are a natural response to abusive employers. The primary reason for the decline of unions is anti-union laws — government intervention in the markets.
Wages have stagnated because Congress has refused to raise the minimum wage across the nation and because of anti-union laws. And before you tell me that unions are corrupt with mob influence, take note that organized crime has bought many businesses in order to launder their money. Business has an interest in keeping wages low while allowing CEO pay and stock prices to rise indefinitely. Over the long term, stock prices will always go up. Wages have stagnated due to government intervention in the market.
In fact, I doubt that wages would stagnate while allowing CEO pay to rise in a free market. If labor were represented with 30% of the seats on the board of directors of every publicly held corporation (a demand a union could make), you can bet that CEO pay would be restrained. That means more money for wages and more money for consumers to spend. Huh. Another virtuous circle.
To incorporate is to get a license to operate a business with limited liability, and the limit of your liability is the value of your stock. That’s government intervention in the market. We could require all publicly traded corporations to reserve 30% of the seats on the board of directors for labor representation. That’s a form of government intervention that conservatives would prefer not to discuss. Inequality in America is a matter of public policy choices, not just how the economy works.
I’m sure we could discuss many more ways in which the government intervenes in the market. But I don’t see us discussing that very much in political discourse. We may find some satisfaction discussing these ideas with our liberal friends. But we will make progress discussing these ideas with our conservative friends, in front of their conservative friends. We might even find greater satisfaction asking our conservative leaders, on camera, why the inventor of a coronavirus vaccine should be awarded a patent when he was paid by the government to do the research.
None of this is really news. You won’t see it reported in the news. You certainly won’t see op-eds questioning the merits of one-sided, one-way, government intervention in the markets. You will never see Tucker Carlson or Lou Dobbs tell us that conservatives love government intervention in the markets just as much as liberals, as long as income is distributed upwards.
This is the blind spot of the Left. The Left can talk all day about how unfair the system is, and never really talk about the cause. The Left can talk all day together, without even bothering a conservative. We need to expand the scope of debate on inequality with conservative leaders who have the power to make the changes we want but won’t, and force them to justify their positions, on their turf, on the air, on the record, in front of their audiences. We must take the debate to them.