What Kind Of A Person Takes Advantage Of A Mentally Disabled Man?

This is why I’m not “conservative”.

I have friends and family who identify as “conservative”. Like, them, I believe in personal responsibility and accountability. I believe that one should enjoy the fruits of his labor. I also believe that one should earn his keep.

But as I look out upon recent history, the conservative movement has been used for quite another thing than I’ve been told it was for. If the goal was for the general population to apprehend these principles, it can hardly be said that the wealthiest among us are the models to follow.

If history is to be our guide, then we might see that the exact opposite of conservative principles has been followed. Where we might expect to see personal accountability in corporate governance, we see golden parachutes and CEO pandemic income protection plans. We see that CEO compensation is largely a matter between friends, regardless of performance. In finance, we saw a $700 billion dollar bailout to banks that gave loans to people without even checking for income, and they made a point of not even checking for it.

Recent legislation passed for the purpose of providing economic relief for Americans suffering from the effects of the coronavirus and the lockdowns have born witness to enormous handouts with very little oversight to large businesses. The larger business with legions of lawyers, accountants, and administrators, and friendly relations with the banks, jumped ahead in line before smaller businesses. One provision in one relief bill bestowed a $170 billion tax break to a tiny population of real estate developers. Now we see conservatives insisting that businesses should not be liable if their workers get sick on the job.

In sum, what I see happening is a real-life exposition of the following statement:

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. — John Kenneth Galbraith

I thought I’d seen everything until I read this story:

There, we see the story of a company that took complete and total advantage of a mentally disabled man. It’s a quick read because it’s an obituary, but I thought I’d put two paragraphs here for effect:

As recounted in The New York Times and in an online Times documentary, the men were paid the same $65 a month for decades, in a perversion of a labor law that allowed people with disabilities to be paid less than what a nondisabled person was paid for the same job. Never given options about employment or housing, the men were forced to live in an old school converted into a bunkhouse.

In 2009, after years of inaction, government agencies evacuated the bunkhouse, which had devolved into a fetid firetrap of neglect. Mr. Levi had a broken kneecap, among other health problems, including a depression so deep that he sometimes screamed at night.

Ok, who was the genius that decided to pay these guys $65 for decades? No sick pay. No vacation pay. Mr. Levi had a broken kneecap that never received medical attention. Medical benefits for Mr. Levi were the last thing on the minds of the executives who ran that turkey processing company.

Mr. Levi started out in Texas, was shipped to Iowa and he never came back to see his family. Whoever engineered his life was being selfish. Worse, they were in favor of involuntary servitude. If communism is bad, what’s this? Personal profit and enrichment at the expense of another person suggest a clear motive as to why some conservatives talk about how contracts are so sacred, even if the contract is unjust. Notice that the EEOC lawsuit was before Trump, so I don’t expect to hear many stories like that one from the Trump administration.

I would be conservative myself, except for the fact that modern conservatism isn’t really about justice and freedom anymore. It’s about farming people for money. Both parties do this, so I’m not singling out Republicans here. When I see Joe Biden running for president and winning the primaries in a walk, I’m seeing Boss Tweed in action. I’m seeing the money behind the man working a miracle campaign against the very people he says he represents. I see the same thing in Donald Trump, too.

I would be a conservative were it not for a decades-long effort to rig the system in favor of the rich. This effort is amply demonstrated by the literature. One economist, in particular, Dean Baker, has documented in detail how the economy has been rigged. How bad is the rigging? Have a look at this video which describes how bad income inequality really is in America. It’s hyperbolic. You know, I like Elon Musk and I think he does great work, but really, who “earns” a $780 million payday?

I saw the way the guys at the banks in the Savings and Loan Scandal skated in the 1980s. I saw how the smartest guys in the room at Enron skated. I saw how not a single bank executive was prosecuted after the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008. They were untouchable. In the coronavirus relief legislation, I see how Trump and his cronies want to give money away to businesses with zero accountability or oversight. Another day, another Inspector General fired. Where are conservatives who crow about personal accountability and hard work now?

Willie Levi is not the only one here. To a far lesser extent most Americans are also being taken for a ride. We are told that we have freedom of choice, yet year after year, the choice to unionize has been slowly removed. Wages have stagnated while CEO pay has continued to climb. We are told that we have a choice of internet access providers, but most of us are lucky to have 3 service providers, and many are stuck with just one or none. Monopolies in banking, energy, social media and land have grown up around us, surrounding us with a walled garden built by interlocking directorates. In politics, 95% of the seats in Congress are “safe”. We may have free will, but we lack freedom of choice.

If being conservative means removing or eliminating the choices available to the people, then I can say that I’m not a conservative. If being conservative means that only people who can afford compensation consultants should be allowed to get salaries that grow faster than the rate of inflation, I guess I’m not conservative. If being conservative means that the government can print money to serve private interests rather than public interests, then I’m not conservative. If being conservative means that it’s OK for anonymous individuals to buy representation in Congress, then I’m not conservative.

I’m liberal not because I want the government to hand out money to poor people. I’m a liberal because I perceive glaring hypocrisy in the conservative movement. I do not believe that billionaires can exist in a free market. I do not believe that billionaires exist as a result of efficiencies in the way capitalism allocates capital. I’m not even sure that we live in a capitalist system anymore.

A fair contract is where both parties are better off than without the contract. When wages stagnate, that’s a result of inequality. When employers are abusive, that’s a sign of a captured labor market. When the political objectives of the rich have a greater chance of being realized in law than those of the poor, that’s a sign of a captured regulator. When a president treats the government as if it were his own business, that’s a sign that we’re not living in a capitalist system. In this social contract, only one side is better off, and we can guess which side has prospered.

So maybe I got this all wrong. Maybe I missed something. But the evidence available to me says “be liberal”. When conservatives work so hard to rig the system in their favor, I choose to promote liberal policies as a countervailing force. I choose to be liberal not because I want free things, I choose to be liberal to counteract the rigging at the top. I am mindful that conservatives want big government intervention in the market just as much as liberals do. The difference is that conservatives want to distribute the income upwards. I would rather honor the mentally disabled among us than to profit at their expense.

Write on.

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