Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Age of selfishness (or getting my way – what I want, when I want, how I want)

I was making dinner and handed the onion chopper to my teenage daughter who was sitting at the table doing schoolwork. “Would you chop this, please?”

She accepted the chopper. “What are we having?”

“Lasagna,” I said, aware that that she doesn’t like it.

She suddenly stopped chopping. “I can’t support that.”

I laughed. Her reply epitomized the current political and social culture of the United States, if not the world: If you don’t like the outcome, don’t support the process! But as a parent, I was also a little irked: It’s one thing to express an opinion; it’s another not to cooperate because she doesn’t like the menu. As the designated cook for the family that night, I needed her help whether she liked it or not.

In an online article, “Why We Fight for Economic Freedom,” Charles Koch of the infamous Koch brothers tries to equate government intervention in American business with central planning in the former Soviet Union by listing a series of platitudes that warn about the danger of big government and power with no acknowledgment that American and Soviet economics evolved from completely different systems of government, and that, most tellingly, in the United States, “‘the government’” is you, me, and even Charles Koch. The irony, as any first-year economics student can tell you, is that unfettered economic freedom inevitably leads to oligarchy and monopoly, either public or private. “Nations with the greatest degree of economic freedom [read: limited government] tend to have citizens who are much better off in every way,” writes Koch. Not necessarily, Charles, unless you mean we’re all better off if we do what you tell us.

Harold Simmons, one of the biggest contributors to Republican candidates and causes during this election, also believes his business acumen justifies a certain derring-do. Charles Homans writes in The New Republic (May 10, 2012) that in 1993, Simmons used the pension fund of one of his companies to take over another company, a move the U.S. government deemed unduly risky. When he found himself in court, Simmons justified his action by claiming the deal was a prudent investment, but the judge ruled against him anyway. “‘That’s when I started contributing to politicians with free-market and antiregulation [sic] agendas,’ he later told [The Wall Street Journal]. ‘If the Labor Department hadn’t sued, that pension would be as rich as me.’” So in Simmons world, the ends justify the means? And what if he had been allowed to proceed and had been wrong? Bernie Madoff?

Democracy allows everyone an equal say in how they are governed in accordance with principles that permit them to live free from oppression or coercion by others. (Thanks, Wikipedia.) It does not mean getting your own way. Nor does it guarantee efficiency. Democracy is about helping as many people as possible get their own way while protecting us all from individuals and groups who would impose their will on everyone else if they could. When it comes to democracy, Koch and Simmons thrive because of government, not in spite of it. I guess they missed that day in civics class.

As I told my daughter, “If you don’t like what I’m making, don’t eat it.” But it's my job to make dinner for everyone, and as a member of the family, she's expected to help - even if she doesn’t like lasagna.

© 2012 Kvick Thoughts. All rights reserved.

(See related post Corporate give and take.)

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