Thursday, November 11, 2004

What is capitalism?

Promoted from the comments:
But. I don't think a successful future includes capitalism. To me, that would be American liberals making cash off of third-world/"other" workers. And that is what capitalism is. Owners and investors making money off of the workers. Some Liberals complain about capitalism not because conservatives embrace it, but because it sucks for 7/8 of the people in the game.

I understand why people feel this way, but essentially this is liberal spin on an otherwise neutral term (similar to how conservatives manage to transmit an implicit sneer every time they use the word "socialist"). I prefer a different definition for the purposes of this blog: private ownership of property, including the right to make decisions of one's property, such as donating or trading it.

Or: A bunch of liberals get together, pool their resources (money), establish an institution (property), and then decide what to do with it (without having to worry about a bunch of conservative wackos coming along and screwing it up).

There's nothing inherent in the idea of private industry that says it has to behave poorly. Similarly, there's nothing inherent in the idea of government that says it's going to be so benevolent. As liberals, we're virtually trained to envision utopian, well run, well behaved governments, but utopian, well run, well behaved private institutions are just as conceivable. And, in fact, I'd say they're more likely to come into being than a good government is.

In any case, if the word capitalism comes with too much negative baggage, then I'm willing to trade it in for something else (though I can't think of one right now, so if somebody has a suggestion, please post it).

I am a crazy liberal extremist

A moment of reassurance in the wake of all this crazy talk about economic conservatism:

Take heart, for I am just like you. I want clean air, clean drinking water, and safe food. I want everybody in America, if not the world, to have affordable access to superb medical care. I want a 100% literacy rate. I want gay couples to enjoy all the same rights as heterosexual couples. I want marijuana to be legalized for more than just medicinal purposes (though I do not do drugs and am generally no fun at parties). I want to be able to buy cool toys (video games, mp3 players, cars, clothes, candy) without worrying about my purchases supporting companies that exploit workers, abuse customers, and ruin the environment.

I revel in a righteous cause. I watch the West Wing (seasons 1 & 2 on DVD) and dream that I'm Sam Seaborn. Or sometimes I'm Toby or the president. I call my best friend Leo (when nobody else can hear) and he calls me Jed. The point being, not that I have a rich fantasy life, but that there are no ulterior motives here, and what I am most interested in is finding the best way for all of us to get the things we want, to create the kind of world we want to live in.

Go crazy.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Proper Noun

What do we call it when liberals embrace the ideals of economic and fiscal conservatism? I like the term Responsible Consumerism. We'll be using our shopping power (as well as our business-starting power) to influence which companies succeed in America, and, by proxy, how those companies behave. While, mechanically at least, the combination of social liberalism and economic conservatism is the same formula as libertarianism, I don't think we fit that term because for us this isn't about a philosophy of "rights," and nor do we get along with the Ayn Rand flavor of libertarianism that likes to talk shit about altruism. We're definitely creating our own beast here -- at least as far as I know. Could be there's something out there just like this and I've never heard of it. So, unless and until someone points it out to me I think we need some new terminology for the sake of easier communication.

But maybe the term responsible consumerism is too small. It's only one aspect of the larger whole since eventually we should be launching institutions that are much bigger than mere shopping. We're going to want to start schools, and charities, and even hospitals. We're going to need our own news media (not partisan journalism, but good journalism). We're going to want to create our own form of social security -- one the government can't raid or ruin.

We're going to need a bigger proper noun.

Teaser: Consumers' Union

Imagine if you could easily persuade consumers to favor products that were safe, environmentally friendly, and made by companies that treated their workers and customers well. We'd be halfway to living in a liberal utopia right there.

More to come.

Primer: Prepare to shit yourself

Economic conservatism is a concept that, generally speaking, liberals couldn't be more adverse to. It's an idea that has been defined by greedy conservatives and whacked out libertarians. Mention the virtues of the free market to a liberal and he'll likely shit himself with outrage over things like workers' rights, the minimum wage, and what Wal-Mart has done to his hometown and the local economy. So for me to sit here and advocate economic and fiscal conservatism as the best ways for us liberals to realize our liberal dreams might at first seem insane.

Nevertheless, this is exactly the place I think we need to be heading to. The government cannot be depended upon to help us reach our goals, and the only real power we have is in the money we control. Fiscal and economic conservatives have long recognized the power of the dollar in their wallet, and it's time liberals recognized it as well. The philosophy of economic conservatism is the means by which we choose to create and support our own institutions -- businesses, schools, charities -- institutions that behave the way we want them to, and that Republicans can't ruin. And the best part is, we can start taking action on this front today.

I've been alluding to this idea in previous posts -- I'm even repeating myself to a large extent here -- but now I want to set forth an official primer upon which further exploration will be based.

The government isn't going to do a thing to help liberal causes for the next four years. It didn't do a thing to help liberal causes over the last four years. And in 2008 the Democrats could lose again and that will be another four years lost. Worse, even if the Dems manage to win that one, we still run the risk of losing in 2012 and thereby having four years worth of progress destroyed.

This is a stupid stupid system. Get rid of it. Get it out of your head. Government is worthless to us and the Democrats are best used as a short term buffer between us and Republican craziness as we work to reduce the impact of government on our lives.

From here forward, whenever you imagine that far off better world of the future that we all want to live in, also imagine how we might realize that vision without the government's help. Think big. Think of how tiny blogs helped create a massive grassroots infrastructure to support Kerry's bid for president. Think of everything from to Air America Radio. Think of the approximately $2 billion private businesses and individuals spent on Kerry. Think of the 55 million people who voted for him. Think of what might be accomplished if we used that money, organization, and energy for something other than an election.

Once we've got government out of our heads, we'll discover whole new realms in which we can take immediate and direct action for the causes we care about.

Take a deep breath. Here comes capitalism.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Marching Orders

One thing that gets my goat about the liberal half of the blogosphere is the eagerness with which everybody tries to quarterback for the Democrats -- what they should be thinking about, what their strategy for the next four years ought to be, whether or not the party needs to redefine itself, and, if so, how...whatever.

And when the talk isn't about what the Democrats need to do, it's about what we need to do to help the Democrats. Send them money. Wear an "Any Dem 2008" button on your lapel. Wait until 2006 and then volunteer to man a phone bank.

This is a dangerous mindset. The more we look to the Democrats as our only hope, the more likely we are to sit on our asses and get nothing done for the next four years. The Democrats do need support from us -- for the time being they're all that stands between us and the oncoming Republican insanity -- but we mustn't be afraid to put them on the back burner for a while as we explore ways to take action independently of them. Finding the means to take action without looking to the government is now a necessity, and as such liberals need to start investing their time, money, and ideas in something else.

It's time to start thinking outside the cliche.

Pretend for a minute that you've got a loose army of approximately 55.5 million people, all of whom can be motivated to take at least a baby-step's worth of action for your cause (and many will do much more than that) if only they're given something to do. You're about to give them an order, but your order can't involve aiding a political party or even interacting with the government at all. You must take action immediately, and there's nothing less than your very way of life at stake.

So, what's your plan?

Get the gov't out of the marriage business

It's high time this idea hit the liberal blogosphere. The gay community has been talking about getting the gov't out of marriage for a long time, yet for some reason this is the first time I've encountered it on a blog. (Perhaps last week's West Wing helped get it out there.)

In addition to the sly political strategy laid out at the link above, it's also worth noting that getting the gov't out of the marriage business helps avoid that pesky Separate but Equal clause, which someone is bound to pick up on once they realize it's marriage for heterosexuals but civil unions for gays.

And aside from all of that, let's also remember that, plain and simple, this is the right thing to do.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Kill the Media

Over at DailyKos there's this post about how everyone's bitching about the media. It's a topic long past due for discussion, though I found this particular entry to be verbose and somehow never quite getting to the actual issue.

Just to make sure we're all on the same page then, I'll be a little more blunt:

Bush won, in large part, because people believed a bunch of lies -- about him, and about Kerry -- and the reason people believed those lies is because they read them in the paper where they were repeated ad nauseam and rarely if ever fact checked by our shamefully sloth-like press. Campaign Desk was on the job, holding the media's feet to the flame, as were several other sites, but clearly that wasn't enough.

The media is showing no signs of changing it's lazy ways, and that's bad news (get it? bad news? Whooooooo!). We need a plan of action.

Maybe, as mentioned over at Kos, some leftie billionaire will buy up or start up a media empire. That'd be great. But really we shouldn't get into the habit of wandering off to fantasy land where we can spend other people's money on our liberal pipe dreams (especially since there's also talk of having these guys buy up diebold as well -- there's only so much money to go around; they do have to eat, you know).

So how about this, instead. We get all the bloggers and all the people who read the blogs and everyone else who feels the press did an absolute shit job, and we all cancel our subscriptions to, say, the New York Times and pledge not to buy a single newsstand issue as well. We each write a letter explaining our dissatisfaction, and we each reference some specific articles to back up our claims (check over at Campaign Desk for this part). And we say we're only going to do it for a month this first time because we're willing to give them a second chance and we'll happily declare our loyalty to the NYT, renewing our subscriptions, should they do a solid job of getting their act together.

The blog community is tremendous, and if we could all commit to this sort of action, I'd bet dollars to donuts we'd get results and we'd get them damn fast. We have no reason to support media outlets that fail to do their jobs and it doesn't hurt to remind them of that from time to time.

Maybe gov't isn't the way to achieve liberal goals

I originally posted this at my other stomping grounds. You can click the link to see the discussion that ensued -- it's interesting for the most part, I think. If you feel like registering and following up over there, that'd be great. Or you can post comments here. Either way, I think this is an extremely important issue for liberals to be thinking about. The government is out of our control for at least another four years, and this could be the difference between sitting on our thumbs until 2008 or actually getting some work done.

Circa 1998, I was much more of a socialist, philosophically, than I am today. I used to think that if we wanted things like top notch schools and quality healthcare for everyone, then we had to get the government to do it for us. Today, I think that government -- or at least the American government -- is the worst possible means towards those ends.

Assuming we were able to get a liberal elected president, as well as a liberal congress to support him, we'd still have to freak out every four years about a Republican getting elected and undoing everything we've worked for. And now we've lost two presidential elections in a row and are even further away than before from having liberal control of either the House or the Senate. All of which means for the four years passed and the four years to come, liberal goals have been, and are going, nowhere. For every step forward, we take two, sometimes three steps back.

Why do we even bother?

How much money went into trying to get Kerry elected? Consider everything from Air America Radio to to Kerry's campaign war chest. It has to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And consider all the man-hours spent -- the volunteers in the GOTV ground game, the bloggers and the 527 organizers, the artists, actors, and musicians, all of whom gave their time, their talent, and their passion to his cause. What might have been accomplished if we'd aimed those resources at something other than a political campaign?

Maybe it's time for liberals to take those resources and start new institutions: businesses, schools, even hospitals, that do things the way we want them to. Institutions that don't risk being compromised every four years by a party whose ideals are the raw antithesis of our own.

Of course, this is exactly the kind of thing that traditional conservatives have been talking about forever. I think the main reason the left has rejected these ideas is because they're always presented in a selfish, "Fuck you, don't touch my money" kind of way. But just because their motives are wrong for us doesn't mean the idea itself won't work.

So why, even in the wake of Kerry's defeat, do we insist on looking to government to give us a better tomorrow? Why are we willing to wait another four years for that tomorrow to begin?

There are some fights that must still be fought in the political arena, such as gay rights and the war on the War on Drugs. I'm not proposing we give up on those. But there are many liberal goals that I think we can achieve without government -- and without government, we can start working towards them right now. We have the money, the passion, and the talent to start it all today. So what's stopping us?

That was $2 Billion we spent on Kerry. I think he was a solid candidate, he ran a strong campaign, and it would have been great if he were elected. But that didn't happen. And while I won't say that that money was wasted (the infrastructure built with it is enormous and potentially very powerful), I can't help thinking better use could have been of it if liberals weren't so hell bent on getting the government to solve all our problems.

Healing the Rift

Once the election was wrapped up, people got it in their heads that ours was a country that needed healing, that people on both sides of the political divide needed to reach out to those whom we'd stood in opposition to, and embrace them on the grounds that we are all, in the end, Americans. As I wrote elsewhere at the time, screw that:

Let's not heal the rift. I like the rift.

I look across the rift and I see people who, in the name of morality, have chosen to oppress a huge chunk of their countrymen simply because they have different beliefs. I look across the rift and I see people who based their support of this president on information that is objectively false. I look across the rift and I see people who called me a terrorist because I exercised my First Amendment right and voiced dissent against the government's actions. I look across the rift and I see a party that engaged in the scummiest, most anti-democratic efforts to suppress voters when they feared they would lose the election.

I'm plenty happy on my side of the rift. Imperfect as things here are, I can at least go to sleep knowing that we've fought for people's rights instead of against them, that we've fought for truth and integrity from our government instead of secrecy and deception, that we've fought for ideals that we can honestly say will bring freedom to all Americans, instead of picking and choosing only the ideals that we're comfortable with.

With few exceptions, I think the Democrats ran a righteous campaign, and while normally I consider the party too centrist for my tastes, I'm proud to have them on this side of the rift. There are fiscal conservatives on this side of the rift, and I'm glad they're here, because we need them to show us that freedom is more than a social cause. And there are people of devout faith and spirituality on this side of the rift and I'm thankful for them because they help guide our collective conscience and remind us that there can be humanity and sanity in religion. This is the side of the rift I like being on, and this is where I'm staying.

I oppose this administration and its policies, so why should I suddenly buddy up to the people who supported it? Are they going to turn around and say, "Aw shucks, pal, we'll not oppress homosexuals after all, and we'll put an end to this crazed doctrine of preemptive war based on unsubstantiated claims and fear mongering, and we'll even embrace logic and decision making based on actual facts as our basic mode of mental operation." That's not going to happen.

There's more to be gained in providing loyal opposition than in pretending to be their friends.