Here's a post about economics, as suggested by Tammy. Well, sort of a post on economics.
I was watching the (original) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie (with Gene Wilder) - which came out the year I was born and which I have always really loved. I got it on DVD last year so my daughter could enjoy it, and I was watching it this weekend because my daughter put it in the DVD player to watch.
At the beginning of the movie, there is the "Candyman" song sequence, where the owner of a candy shop sings about how Willy Wonka was born to be a candyman and dances about, giving out candy in various forms to the children in the shop. Since I was a kid, this sequence always bothered me for this reason: A major plot point in the movie is Charlie's lack of funds to even buy a candy bar (because he's so poor) - and yet here, right at the beginning, you see all these kids dancing around, getting hundreds of dollars worth of candy for free - the proprietor just hands it out, you see no money exchanged. I wondered, why can't Charlie get some of that free candy?
Then as I watched it, and saw Charlie looking in through the window longingly as the sequence ends, all of the various arguments I've had in the blogsphere flooded in, and I wondered if instead one could take it for just how Charlie sees it - like all the kids get to dance and get candy for free (seemingly) and he's just left out of it because he's of the wrong class (too poor). Or something like that. In other words, it only SEEMS like candy is given away to him, given the relative wealth difference between him and those other children. They can afford it enough so that it seems (to Charlie) like it is just given away. I know, this is really overthinking it - in reality, they just wanted to do a musical number about candy, and that was a fun way to do it.
But this brought back the various blog arguments I've seen because of how it relates to perception. The "privileged" children in the store getting free candy - or rather, seeming to get free candy to the "non-privileged" Charlie Bucket - when the reality was, they really don't get free candy - Charlie's perception is mistaken -- which rather turns on its head the whole notion of "Standpoint Theory" - where the non-privileged supposedly have better insights than the privileged - in this case, the privileged know what's going on better than the non-privileged.
Though in my personal opinion, I think standpoint theory is mostly bunk (and it has been fairly effectively refuted by people other than me) for the simple reason that I don't see how one could ever think to know the experiences of others without ever having walked in their shoes - being less privileged doesn't suddenly offer a person any insights - and it may even cause envy and resentment, which would color perceptions. I think it is part of the notion in leftist thinking that the poor are somehow better than those who aren't poor (and especially better than the rich) when, last I checked, rich, poor, or middle-class, we are all the same species, with the same strengths, weaknesses, and personal biases.
Which brings me to more economics - survival of the fittest. Some use that as an excuse to do nothing for the poor (except blame them) and I think this is bunk. It is true that if one is truly exceptional, one can go from poor to rich. And so it is also true that some of the rich are people who have done exactly that - and so in that limited circumstance, you really can say that a person truly deserved to be rich and those poor people he or she left behind deserved it less because they didn't work to earn it. But that is not the norm - a huge amount of wealth in our society is inherited - even more so as we eliminate the estate tax and as certain members of the upper class strip out public funds to enrich themselves (like with the Iraq war). Being born to someone rich doesn't mean one deserves to be rich - while there is some component of genetics to who we are, such that a successful person might breed successful children, even there there is variation, especially as one goes down to successive generations. Beyond that, it is easier to make a million when you are born with a million in a trust fund.
The way I think about the various "classes" is this: I think the main determiner of what class you will be is what class your parents were - rich parents, rich children; poor parents, poor children. I think it takes a very special sort of individual (and some luck) to manage to climb to a new class level - from poor to middle or from middle to rich - or from poor to rich. You can decrease that difficulty with some help - like with the GI Bill, that sent a whole generation to college after WWII - that created a robust middle class (which has slowly eroded away of late). Of course, it also helped that all of the world industrial powers other than the United States had been bombed into rubble and so we had basically total market share for manufacturing for a while.
What this boils down to is this: you really can't say that the poor are poor just because they are lazy or unable to be anything else. It is really hard to get up out of one class - particularly when you start at the bottom. Sometimes cultural things make that worse - like favoring jocks over studying - while a few superstar jocks may get out, a much more reliable method of improving yourself is through education - which means being a nerd and studying over partying and socializing or doing sports.
I think the key is education - making it available for everyone and making it of good quality. And I don't support things like vouchers - which I see as a backdoor way to suck funds out of public schools and put it into religious schools, and as a subsidy for upper class parents who already have kids in private school and just want a tax break for it. (Because the vouchers never cover full tuition, and so the poor, who can't afford even partial tuition, are still stuck - leaving those who benefit the most those who can afford private school already anyway).
I'd favor vouchers if they did two things: 1) if they were not for religious schools - I don't want my tax dollars paying to teach bronze age superstitions as fact and 2) if they covered 100% tuition of any school you sent your kid to, so it would actually allow even the poor to have full school choice, as opposed to just giving a subsidy to the upper class to send their kids to school.
I favor some form of national health insurance - again, making it easier for the poor and middle class to move up - because the main cause of bankruptcy is not credit card spending sprees, it is medical bills.
I favor regulation of corporations for 100% transparency of their books - I think the best form of regulation is not so much forbidding certain behavior (though you still would have some of that) as it is making all behavior on public display. I would also give more power back to stockholders - you know, the people who actually OWN the companies. It is sickening to me to see, for instance, over half of shareholders vote to limit a CEO's compensation and then see the board just ignore it. I'd make 2/3 or 3/4th majoritys required of shareholders for setting things like CEO compensation and golden parachutes - and I'd add an extra layer of protection on golden parachutes - I'd make them all also contingent on a 2/3rd vote of the stockholders at the time of exercise. Of course, the GOP would hate this - this would take away a lot of their power and financial base - but hey, giving shareholders (owners) more power is what would make for a TRUE ownership society.
As it is, I see CEOs and boards using companies as personal banks, looting the value and living off of them like leeches. Which I find sickening. I'd think a true libertarian would want to eliminate that sort of legalized theft.
As I said before, the GOP favors privatization of profits - and the public financing of losses. Which is exactly the opposite of a free market. If they gamble and win, they want to keep all the winnings, if they gamble and lose, they want the taxpayers to bail them out and prevent them from taking any losses (and also allow them to keep their millions already "earned"). This is bullshit. I think what the Fed is doing now, in general, is really bad - they are lowering interest rates, which will just give a tiny bump now in exchange for a huge recession and huge inflation in the future - 5 to 10 years from now. But hey, anything to juice things up in an election year. Bush just keeps on proving that no matter how bad he's been, he can get even worse.
As usual, I have wandered far - from chocolate to Bush. To get back to Charlie - Charlie is wrong in his perception - there is no free chocolate. The other kids do have to pay for it. It only seems to him like they don't or that they have an unending supply because he has so little and because perhaps he likes to imagine things that way, as if he could somehow get there himself, if only he works hard enough. In a way, that's like the general lie that keeps the poor voting GOP - the notion that they vote for things that are hugely beneficial for the rich and powerful with the idea that they could somehow get those benefits too, if only they worked hard enough. Which is a lie - the benefits that the GOP gives are just for its cronies - and the hard work they reward is that of lobbyists, not anyone who actually produces anything. And as a final thought - I hope everyone reading this now has either "Candyman" or even better, "Pure imagination" running through their heads from the movie. Because I sure can't get them out right now after having watched the movie several times for toddler.
4 years ago