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Apr 30 2011

Why am I anti-conservative, when many conservative financial ideals make sense?

untitled83 asked on my recent post about electoral projections:

I just have a quick question I’ve wanted to ask a strong liberal, or should i say a strong anti-conservative. I stumbled on your blog so here you go. Why is it so wrong to vote conservative. I work. I appreciate the effort of workers, of small businesses and of even large corporations. Even large corporations where small once. They worked hard and made there way to huge corporations which employ thousands of people. I don’t see anything wrong with them, or myself for that matter, wanting to keep the money we make as opposed to paying it in taxes.

If one believes its wrong to keep all that money and that it should be shared, then we should appeal to their morals and have them donate it. I prefer that than employing something like forced charity.

What are your thoughts on this? It doesn’t seem irrational to me. Why the strong anti-conservativeness?

As I said, these are excellent questions, and I find surprisingly little to disagree with in the assertions that untitled makes.

I do not see anything wrong with wanting to keep money earned. I do not see anything wrong with appealing to people’s better nature and asking that they donate what they have to spare to charity. I do not like the idea of forced charity. I do not like the idea of high taxes. I appreciate people who work hard, and in fact, I have such a work ethic that my blog (and home life) often suffers because of my inability to “switch off” and stop working for the company that pays my salary.

I understand a few things about the nature of a government “by the people”, and about the nature of corporations and big businesses, though, that colors what I’ve said. I’m not sure that everyone that votes big-C Conservative understands these things, in fact. I suspect many of these observations about both the government and corporations in general need to be pointed out, so I’ll try my best.

Corporations are not people. That should go without saying, but it implies a great deal, so it’s worth reiterating. People will help each other out of a sense of greater good, and their survival needs (food, shelter, warmth, water, a safe environment) and ability to empathize make it very likely that individuals with surplus resources (time, energy, money) will donate these resources to a good cause. Corporations, which are merely small businesses writ large, do not have the same survival needs. They require only positive cashflow to continue operating. In many cases, corporations will tap a very profitable industry and generate a great deal of positive cashflow — for instance, the oil industry. They do this at the expense of the environment, at the expense of the natural resources (e.g. ANWR, the Deepwater Horizon spill). They do this with little or no regard for the sustainability of their practices — long-term viability always takes a backseat to short-term profit.

Though the corporation is made up of individuals, it is also an autonomous entity that will persist after losing any single individual, including the individuals that are supposedly running the show. It can even survive self-destructive practices under certain circumstances, and will persist in these practices as long as they maintain positive cashflow. A corporation does not have a sense of morality except for what’s imparted on it by its leaders, though it has a constant PR war to maintain its image (or “branding”). In the event that it does too much bad, quietly rebranding is an easy way to shed your image without shedding your practices. Take, for example, when Blackwater, the private military company engaged to assist in Iraq, had its image destroyed after a number of its troops murdered civilian non-combatants in Iraq wholesale. They renamed themselves to Xe, and suddenly you don’t hear a thing about them any more.

Occasionally, philanthropists will rise to the top of a corporation, and under their leadership, the corporation will have a progressive, charitable outlook. More often, borderline sociopaths rise to the top of the corporation to become CEOs, and their only goals are power and wealth. These individuals are more than willing to ramp up those practices that are unfair, illegal, or otherwise detrimental to humankind, knowing full well that since they’re at the top of the pile, and wealth concentrates upward if left unchecked, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. Even if the corporation were to fail under their leadership, many of these CEOs write themselves golden parachutes so they get tons of money even at the expense of the people that depended on that corporation for their livelihood.

Mere people are not large enough to stop a corporation, unless their “brand image” gets tarnished enough, something that doesn’t happen to nearly enough companies. One needs an entity larger than a corporation to put checks into place so that such blatant abuses of power do not go completely unchallenged. The only entity larger than a corporation and with the power to do something about the corporation, is the government. Without government intervention, corporations would do what they do best — taking people’s money in exchange for goods and services, giving as few services and as little money to its workers as it could get away with. Without the government increasing the minimum wage, or imposing taxes on corporations, or providing services that private entities simply cannot adequately do “for profit”, like road paving, fire fighting, or health care (see the health care system in the States, by comparison with ours), certain services would never be available to us.

When the choice is, for example, a 1% hike in taxes across all citizens to pay for health care, or having to pay for health care out of pocket, the former action benefits all citizens despite disproportionately financially hurting rich citizens, while the latter hurts all citizens including those rich folks who still have the money to pay for health care. You see, rich people become rich by obtaining money from the less-rich by delivering them services. There is a constant upward flow of money. Government generally forces some equivalent downward flow in order to keep the economy moving. Once too much money is concentrated at the top, the economy collapses because people can no longer buy services, because they no longer have the money to buy anything but the bare necessities (and often not even that).

When the rich are taxed more than the poor, and when those taxes go toward social programs like paying for health care for everyone, that means the poor won’t have to spend as much money on health care and can go on spending on luxury items which benefit the rich. If wages for the lower classes stagnate, money is no longer flowing. And in Canada, over the past thirty years, real workers’ wages have stagnated while CEOs’ pays have increased several-hundred-fold.

Conservatives have, historically, argued that tax breaks for the upper tiers of society result in a “trickle down effect” where corporations will pass their savings on to consumers — lowering prices, creating jobs, etc. The argument is that if you give the rich all the cake, crumbs will fall to the poor, and we’ll all get cake. The problem with this argument is that every time this tactic has been tried, the rich eat the cake and the crumbs and the poor get nothing. In other words, tax breaks increase a corporation’s profit margins, but do absolutely nothing for the poor. When oil companies get huge government subsidies to “keep them running”, but they make record profits year after year, something’s broken. Meanwhile, despite these record profits, oil prices are still much higher than they should be by any rights. Why are oil prices rising and oil companies’ profits rising at the same time? Why is our government giving them money to keep doing what they’re doing, while the prices continue climbing, benefiting none of us? And why does oil only drop again when people start reeling from sticker shock and scale back their frivolous use?

Conservatives have traditionally been the party of privilege — the party that wants the rich to get richer and wants social programs to go away. They want government to be small — small enough that they don’t check corporations by limiting unfair practices or increasing the minimum wage or preveting growth into monopolies; small enough that they don’t provide social programs that help the poor at the expense of the rich; and small enough that they don’t need to tax the rich to keep these programs running. By lowering taxes across the board, they give themselves cover when they slash social programs — by ostensibly giving you more money in your pocket to do things as you like, they look like the “good guys”. Really, though, they’re helping the upward flow of money. And when you start being asked to pay directly for the road paving on your street, or for the fire fighters answering your call, or for the simple preventive health care that could save your life, then watch how far that extra $60 that you got back on your last tax return goes.

I strongly feel that most rational capitalist societies trend toward economic centrism — keeping the rich just rich enough to be motivated to continue doing what they’re doing without completely undercutting the entire economy to benefit themselves, and keeping the poor wealthy and healthy enough that they can spend on frivolities and keep the money moving. When the rich aren’t able to become rich enough, due to too much government intervention, then the poor aren’t particularly motivated to become rich, and the rich aren’t particularly motivated to stay rich. That means that sometimes, conservative ideals are good for the country, to trend the economy back toward centrism. Honestly though, during WW2 in the States, the rich had 95% of their income taxed. Most of them used loopholes to ensure they didn’t lose more than 50%, but that’s fine, because with taxes as low as they are now, some of them pay 0% after exploiting those loopholes. In other words, when taxes are too low for corporations, then the average citizen pays more than a multi-billion-profiting company. Best to demand as much as you can, knowing they’ll chisel whatever they can back.

I strongly feel that at absolute minimum, 65% of Canada disagrees with the Conservatives’ tactics of slashing taxes and slashing social programs. I believe this country has swung too far in that direction and the pendulum is due for a massive swing back toward liberalism. And I believe it would have happened as soon as more than 50% of our country agreed, except for how the parties are aligned presently. If only our political discourse weren’t fragmented such that the 30% of the country that will vote Conservative based on jingoistic feel-good propaganda or a total lack of understanding of the realities of the economy, constitutes a “majority”.

And this isn’t even getting into the civil rights issues — considering that conservatives of all stripes have this absurdist tendency toward espousing “small government ideals”, but increase the size of government whenever possible in order to legislate away people’s rights (e.g., sticking their nose into every bedroom in the country). Nor is it getting into the very real way that the Conservative Party government has demolished transparency, spent money that we don’t have on items we don’t need (and overpaid to boot), and generally turned our police force into jackbooted thugs during the G20.

There are lots of reasons I’m anti-Conservative Party, and lots why I’m generally anti-conservative (at the moment). Because my ideals about the proper flow of the economy are dependent on how far to the left or to the right we are of the ideal middle ground, I expect I may vote conservative at some point in the distant future, should we ever get to the point where our society is too liberal. We’re nowhere near “too liberal” though, looking at this country objectively. I’d say we’re somewhere between “too conservative” and “how are we still afloat at all?”.

Can you look at this country objectively? You really ought to try.

12 comments

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  1. 1
    Jason Thibeault

    For clarity, I use the terms “rich” and “poor” as generalities. I mean generally “upper class” and “middle/lower class”.

  2. 2
    George W.

    I know that my comment on the other thread may indicate otherwise, but I am a centrist (though maybe center-left of Jason) as well.

    When you peel away the rhetoric, laissez-faire economics is as much a Utopian pipe dream as socialism. The fact that conservatives seem so in tune with that reality for socialism, and so blissfully unaware of the facts on their side of the fence, is proof positive that ideology is the great stumbling block to reason.

    Wouldn’t we all love to live in a world where we reaped unlimited benefit from no investment? Both systems are predicated on the idea that people are innately benevolent, both assume that ultimately people will give of themselves freely, one with capital and the other with labour. In a world without variables, both are the ultimate system. Yet humans are the universes ultimate variable; so we must pick our revolt- shall it be plowshares or power that is wielded as a weapon?
    The best we can do is straddle the middle. Hopefully everyone is equally happy, or equally miserable.

  3. 3
    The Atheist Jew

    Obama is far to the right of anything we have in Canada, yet he is called a Socialist. I don’t see that the Conservatives as being responsible for anything too bad lately. My only concern is that they attract the Christian Right in Canada, though they are very impotent at this time, and I hope it keeps that way.
    NDP is too Socialist to me, way too Socialist. I like Canada the way it is right now, and I think voting Conservative is the only way to go.

  4. 4
    Erin

    My parents voted PC for years and when I first started voting, I didn’t have a problem with that. At the time there wasn’t much of a difference between the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives aside from the people in the parties and PC might have had a few more people who thought a little further right than others. Then came the Reform party – the party that evolved because the PC weren’t right-wing enough. Perhaps Reform wasn’t quite as extreme right as some parties have been extreme left, but they were dancing on the edge. The Conservative Party as we know it today came from a merger of the remains of the PCs and Reform with the Reform leaders at the helm. I currently refuse to vote for a party that does not represent my beliefs and that is something the Conservatives do not do.

    As for getting Canada through the recession, they only did so because they happened to be in power and the other parties agreed that it wasn’t a good time for an election. Note that now that we’ve gotten the all clear on the economy, we’re right back at another election. The Liberals could have gotten us through the recession too, they just weren’t in power.

    Currently, one of the many things keeping me from even considering voting Conservative (even with an incumbent who’s been in office for 13 years) is their stance on the CRTC and UBB (usage based billing for access to the internet). A survey was sent out to all the parties with questions about UBB, the CRTC and the future of the internet in Canada. Every single party responded (even the Pirate Party) except for one – the Conservatives. They actually went so far as to send a message saying that they were not going to respond.

    This is a perfect example of what you’re talking about. Take Bell: over $18 billion in revenue in 2010 (http://bce.ca/data/documents/BCE_annual_2010_en.pdf) and only 2.1 billion of that is applicable to the common shares…that’s still over $2 billion in profit. They claim “Our 4G HSPA+ network already offers download speeds of up to 21 Mbps, and with new Dual Cell technology, up to 42 Mbps.” Only available in ON and PQ and only at 21 Mbps of you pay extra to get it. I couldn’t find their UBB amounts but the biggest package they’ve got is 75GB/month. Just imagine Steam, Netflix and other gaming on that… Rogers allows you from 2GB-175GB depending on your package and charges $5-$0.50/GB over those amounts, again, depending on your package. The CRTC’s original mandate was to protect Canadian culture but not our interests and therefore can allow this to happen. The current government has done little to change the CRTC’s mandate or to curb the excessive billing from the big companies. They are, in fact, facilitating the creation of internet access for the rich and severely limiting what the rest of us will be able to do with our limited – and expensive – internet.

  5. 5
    Erin

    The Atheist Jew:
    My only concern is that they attract the Christian Right in Canada, though they are very impotent at this time, and I hope it keeps that way.

    There’s a reason they attract the Christian Right. Harper and many of his cronies are part of that Christian Right: http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/thesearch/archive/2008/09/10/why-stephen-harper-keeps-his-evangelicalism-very-private.aspx. “The Alliance Church, to which Harper has belonged for decades, believes Jesus Christ will return to Earth in an apocalypse, won’t ordain women, strongly opposes abortion and divorce, condemns homosexuality as the most base of sins and believes those who aren’t born-again are ‘lost.’”

  6. 6
    sinned34

    Hey BEAJ,
    Long time no see! I haven’t been to your site in ages, since I thought you’d stopped blogging.
    I’ll reiterate what I said on your site in the last election: beware if Harper gets his majority. The Conservative Party Of Canada has spent the last decade attempting to import and replicate the political success of the Republican party in the USA. Also, if you fear the “impotent” Christian Right, bear in mind that whackjobs like Charles McVety are the spiritual advisors to many Reform/Alliance/Conservatives. The stealth campaign to try and stop all funding to Planned Parenthood Canada is only the tip of the iceberg.
    Hopefully, we won’t have to find out what will happen if the Cons gain enough seats to grant them unchecked power.

  7. 7
    Jason Thibeault

    The Atheist Jew:
    NDP is too Socialist to me, way too Socialist.I like Canada the way it is right now, and I think voting Conservative is the only way to go.

    And you think the Conservatives will keep Canada as socialist as it is now? Like I said in the article: do you think the problem with health care in Canada is that we have too much of it? And were the Very Bad Things that I pointed to in the second-to-last paragraph, not bad enough to constitute “anything too bad lately”?

    Seriously, I don’t get some people.

  8. 8
    Jason Thibeault

    If anyone wants to see the survey Erin mentioned above, it’s right here. The OpenMedia scorecard:

    Bloc: 24/30
    NDP: 29/30
    Lib: 27/30
    Green: 24/30
    Pirate Party: 29/30 (!!!!!)
    Cons: Refused to fucking respond and be put on record as supporting big industry money-grabs.

    Of note, the Greens “somewhat disagree” with this policy recommendation:

    Mobile Diversity
    Spectrum allocation in the public interest • Reserve from auction a band of no lessthan 2 contiguous 5 MHz in the 700 MHz band for Canadian innovation and localcommunity services. (example: City of Fredericton’s Wireless access programme) •Make spectrum available to lease rather than to own. • Impose a use-it-or-lose-itclause that requires the successful bidder to launch the planned service within threeyears, or give up the spectrum. • Ensure that a portion of the spectrum availableafter full digitization of TV signals is available for unlicensed use. • Set aside one-quarter of the remaining spectrum in the band for auction to carriers with less than2% of market share in order to enable the development of more carriers and moreconsumer choice.

    Guess why. That’s right — their “cancer epidemic” boogeyman. Never mind that there’s no scientific evidence of any increase in cancer rates outside of population growth. Any naturally occurring increase in cancer that correlates with increase in population, is not resultant from concurrent wifi expansion. There is no mechanism by which biology can be affected by wifi. My close personal… er, acquaintance, Steve Thoms, has more to say. (Met him at Skepchicon 2010. Cool guy. Totally name-dropping.)

  9. 9
    Earl Dunbar

    On of the most excellent posts ever written on this subject. *bows*

  10. 10
    2cents

    “The problem with this argument is that every time this tactic has been tried, the rich eat the cake and the crumbs and the poor get nothing.”

    Why should the poor have any entitlement to the wealth of the rich? Has their wealth not been created through their own hard work and intelligence, through their own ambition and drive? The rich are rich because the level of their production is of greater value in the eyes of society. The poor has no right to their wealth. If the rich want to eat their cake then on what moral grounds could we refuse?

  11. 11
    sinned34

    2cents,

    Are you serious? Rich people get rich in a vacuum, is that it? We all know the rich pay for their own roads, ports, airports and bridges, police, fire departments, schooling for their employees while they were still children, etc

    If you want to live in a utopia where the rich run everything and have no moral responsibility to the society they owe their success to, I recommend getting in a time machine and heading back to the middle ages. As a bonus, you’ll also get to experience the freedom of living in a Christian theocracy.

    Forgive me, but your comment was so sociopathic that I have to assume that you’re either a troll or I’m about to see a report on the news that police have located the corpses of a half-dozen missing local children in your basement.

    It’s nice to see the Conservative Party of Canada’s base revealing their contempt for the lesser classes, though.

  12. 12
    Troythulu

    Well put, Jason.

    A lot of things you note in this post could just as easily apply to the GOP, and most if not all do.

    You have my condolences concerning the recent election ‘up there,’ BTW.

    I guess I’m going to have to find somewhere else to emigrate to if the same thing happens in the States.

    If I wanted to live in a right-wing theocracy, I’d become a Muslim and move to Iran.

    Stay cool.

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