I hate it when I agree with Paul Krugman about economics. It’s even worse for me when I agree with Dinesh D’Souza. Turns out, they’re both kind of right, but both are just wrong enough to confuse the American public out of any substantial dialogue regarding capitalism’s present form.
Krugman’s September 19th op-ed riffed on Forbes magazine’s excerpt of Dinesh D’Souza’s argument that Obama is an anti-colonialist with an unfair bias against the rich. Neo-, anti-, and plain ol’ vanilla colonialism aside, the attitudes espoused by these writers regarding how we should view the wealthy tragically miss the most salient point.
Warren Buffett was brilliantly candid a few years ago: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
Americans live in a system of endless market intervention for the benefit of the wealthy — corporate personhood, limited liability, eminent domain abuse, intellectual property protection, unhealthful subsidies, licensing requirements, zoning mandates, prohibitions and tariffs of rival goods, asymmetric trade barriers, favorable tax codes, restrictive labor laws, et. al. which marginalize economic opportunities globally for working people.
Shielding the world’s economic titans from criticism today isn’t, as per D’Souza, a noble act in defense of the honest and exceptionally productive who are under siege from usurpers. They are virtually all people who have benefited unjustly through the help of the American government’s unfair anti-market policies.
This is not to say that all of them share the same culpability for receiving these benefits. The great majority of individuals, wealthy and poor, react to the market they’re born into, seizing the best opportunities they can for themselves without deeply analyzing the economic and moral landscape they’ve inherited from their forebears. Average businesspeople should be treated far more gently than those who actively seek special favors from government to aid them at the expense of wage earners, consumers, and their competitors without political muscle.
So when D’Souza states that “the anticolonialist believes that since the rich have prospered at the expense of others, their wealth doesn’t really belong to them; therefore whatever can be extracted from them is automatically just,” he is omitting the fact that this debate isn’t purely about the legitimate sort of productivity which he is ostensibly championing. If it were, D’Souza would have a strong point.
If President “Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America,” he’d actually be onto something, but sadly, both Obama and Paul Krugman recoil past the correct position of freedom from state-granted market privileges and frustratingly meander in the wrong direction.
“[A]mong the undeniably rich, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it’s their money, and they have the right to keep it.” If they earned it by working and peacefully producing, yes, Dr. Krugman, that’s exactly right. If they used the force of government to stack the economic deck in their odds, their sense of entitlement is unjustified, criminal even, and I would concur with your statement.
We, as Americans, need to confront our system of false political choices: Our authorized options are to either expand the power of the organization which created our problems by working for the benefit of corporations, or to keep the corporatist economy we have now while jettisoning any protections for the poor. They don’t make binaries much more unsavory than this.
Those who utilize aggressive state power to bolster their checking accounts are no true friends to freedom or markets, despite Dinesh D’Souza’s tired endorsement and the common “free market” rhetoric we’re all used to. You don’t mean it, or you’d spend your time arguing against the government giving corporations special treatment in the marketplace rather than lower taxes for the wealthiest of investors.
And for those like Dr. Krugman who seek to use the state against peaceful and legitimate market producers, even for well-intentioned reasons, I don’t believe it can lead to anything but injustice. I probably want a lot of the same ends as he does, but the means used by the state I cannot ethically support. It is too bad for me then, as fake free markets or morally corrupt state power are the only two credible political avenues available in mainstream American discourse.
Beyond that, there supposedly exists only a tundra populated by clammy radicals and moon-faced kooks who often both agree and disagree with each side of the debate, which is forever ricocheting off the point dying to be made against corporate privilege and in favor of an actually free marketplace.