Here is Steve’s response to what I posted yesterday:
“I’m paraphrasing on a quote from 2 people that I ran across during my 4-5 hours of research/day. You don’t offend me at all….I do have a libertarian approach to my political policy. I want the government out of my daily life……which means less social programs, less government(size, scope, taxes, etc) and yes, that does mean less taxes-not more. I’m all for paying taxes but not for allocating it to where it is going today. It needs to be put into something productive instead of supporting welfare(the % of Americans dependant on US welfare checks is approaching an unbearable number). Reported un employment is around 9.4%(a new number Friday), but that doesn’t take into consideration the people that have stopped looking for jobs. The government has changed how we calculate unemployment %, in the past 2 years. Therefore the real unemployment in our country is closer to 15-22%!
If you want to debate income tax & what that does to an economy, I’m ready because that is my expertise. An example of that is to look at any country that has excepted IMF loans. The first thing they do is raise personal & corporate income tax. The following year, in every example since the IMF was founded, tax receipts drop by a minimum of 20%!!
Now with education, I do agree that we need to be focused there, which is why I included you on my email(I know we would agree with that). But throwing more money at the education system doesn’t, in my humble opinion, fix what is broken. If the unions were out of the education system, a lot of the issues with education would be fixed…Now, I don’t mean to offend you by saying that, but the unions are another form of government. Another step towards taking our individual freedoms away & driving jobs elsewhere. It’s not the education that is broke, it is the system & it is only moving farther out of realistic reach!
Personally, I’m very fortunate to be able to send my kids to St. Casimir’s, the private Catholic school that our grandfather attended & our great-grandfather helped establish! I’m willing to pay extra, for my fair share. I’m sure you will agree, there is no education like a private education. Just like I pay extra for my health care, extra income tax, maximum social security tax (X2) of which I will never see!!
Regarding the “cookie cutter approach”….Where do you recommend cutting spending?? Raising taxes across the top 20% of Americans isn’t going to come close to reducing 25% of the deficit that our leaders have run for the past 3 years. I’m talking 1.7 trillion dollars.
If the US gdp is 14 trillion dollars today, and we raised taxes, like I mentioned above on the top 20%, by 20% from 35% to 55%(therefore the top 20% would have taxable income of about 70-75% of their income), the following year, you would see at least a 1.5-2 trillion dollar drop in GDP. Will that fix the problem or make it worse??
Just continuing the spirit of conversation!!”
…And my response.
I brought up my previous questions because they hone in on what I think are the core issues/differences between the way we see things. And, thanks to our conversations (and some late night thoughts about all of this) I am getting clearer on what I think these core issues are.
I’ll try to get at the core of why I think the more libertarian approach both (a) doesn’t work when applied whole-scale to society and government (even as it has its merits in certain economic sectors), and (b) is ultimately incompatible with the Catholic moral, spiritual, and intellectual tradition on these social issues (even as I recognize there are a multitude of interpretations of Catholic morality). And I think there is some overlap between points a and b.
(a) – what I think the libertarian theory/approach/ideology gets right is an understanding of the way that excessive taxes and market regulation can stifle economic growth, and in turn, hurt the kind of growth that can potentially be of benefit to everyone. In other words, this is the social benefit of certain elements of that form of economic thinking (in so far as I understand it). The key point where I think it becomes impractical is in its failure to recognize that there are sectors of any particular culture or society that do not function primarily on this kind of economic model (even if they are still impacted by economic realities). These ares include: providing for the common defense (this won’t make much money, unless of course you own stock in Haliburton or Lockhead Martin), providing a certain level of social security against the risks of the market (which, to be fair, are not very forgiving, and extremely unpredictable) in areas like education, health care, and basic safety nets for those who are on the losing end of the economic game (and one cannot argue that everyone wins in a market). Those are the kinds of things that are essential to a vibrant civil society, that protect a healthy middle class, keep those on the bottom of the economic ladder from falling through the cracks or being ground up by the market system, etc.
(b) – These latter concerns are very closely connected to my commitments to the fundamental elements of the Catholic moral tradition. The Catholic tradition, even as it is expressed in a multitude of forms, has always maintained (going back to the earliest Biblical and apostolic traditions, developed in medieval thought and into modernity) that the human person is a social being, connected with other members of his or her society by a common good. In modern Catholic social thought, this has been interpreted to mean that the market is a natural good of human society, but is in some respects morally neutral – it can be used to build up the common good and support the well-being and livelihood of individuals and society, or it can be used to build up wealth for some, while excluding others (and you don’t need to be a Marxist to realize that this is a reality for many people). The recognition of the common good that holds us together combined with an emphasis on human dignity, as all humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1) and endowed with certain natural rights and responsibilities, is what sustains those basic goods that support a flourishing society on both an individual and social level. What I see lacking in libertarian thought is any concern with upholding the common good (it seems like every man for himself, whatever that means for my neighbor) and denigrates the inherent dignity of each person by claiming (sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly) that those who do not do their part to contribute to the market in the way that we may want them to are somehow then no longer worthy of any kind of social support.
Given all of this, I recognize that entitlement programs and an overly bureaucratized welfare state can become excessive, encourage paternalism on the part of the government and lack of motivation on the part of those receiving them, and stifle growth. But those are reasons to be more intelligent about the way we structure and pay for these programs, not a reason to gut these programs all together. The fundamental point here that I really believe in, is that we need an arena of civil society that is not primarily dominated by the free market system – I see this as a fundamental principle of justice, supported by the Catholic moral tradition but also readily capable of being acknowledged by anyone who reflects on the nature of justice and fairness in relation to civil society and the markets. That sort of lays out the basic principles that I think are at stake in our discussions.
To answer your more specific question about where to make cuts, the most obvious place to start in my mind is with military spending (depending on how different economists analyze it, at least 50% of every tax dollar goes straight into some form of military spending), and then to move into areas that can be trimmed to become more efficient, without gutting the kinds of necessary social elements of the common good that I mentioned above. Here I can even recognize a desire to make those elements more efficient, but frequently the arguments I hear put forth have more to do with eliminating them than making them more efficient – Paul Ryan’s proposal for revamping medicare is one recent example that comes to mind.
On the education front, I recognize my bias with having two parents who were in education unions their whole lives, and that I am currently entering the education job market (though as a professor in a private institution who is not part of any union, my experience is a bit different). My experience in watching my parents go through their careers, in having observed friends get into teaching, is that often the support of teaching unions is the only thing that guarantees that any person can afford to go into teaching and earn a decent living if they expect to provide for a family. Teachers are already paid a paltry amount, and have to fight every year to defend their retirement and health benefits. These people could go into any other form of business in any other industry and make way more money, but they believe in supporting our children and that education forms a foundation of a vibrant civil society. So, we cannot say that we want our kids to learn and compete on the global market while attacking the very teachers who are already sacrificing in order to step into a classroom where the kids hate them, the society does not support them (and blames them for the problems of our education system), and they have to fight tooth and nail for the little bit of security that they do have in this field. If we as a society truly value education, then we have to value and support the people who do the educating – and economics cannot be the only factor in deciding how best to do this, even as it is one factor.
Well, this is already longer than you probably have time to read, but I do feel like I have been a bit more systematic about what I believe is at stake in our discussions – both in terms of the basic principles involved, and in a few areas of application.
In an effort to perhaps focus your response (assuming you find the time for one), let me ask a pointed question. My honest appraisal of libertarian thought, from a theological and ethical perspective, is that it seems to be an “every man for himself” approach to social life. Can you explain to me how this is not necessarily the case? In other words, other than the obvious point that increasing economic growth is a social good (which may potentially be achieved by only increasing the incomes of the wealthiest members of society), what is the social or common good that is fostered by your approach? To be honest, at the end of the day it just sounds like a selfish argument – get the government and taxes off of my back and let everyone else fend for themselves on the open market. Can you show me how this is not the case?
Looking forward to more…
I am currently awaiting Steve’s reply to my “manifesto,” and will post more when available.
Thanks, Tom, for sharing this exchange, not least because I think examining these typical concepts help us understand the genuine moral convictions with which libertarians defend their position. Your exchange made me think it would be helpful to break such discussions down. Some of the differences seem to be a matter of empirics – for example, a consistent libertarian would be in favor of cutting defense, at least on the level of the “military-industrial complex”, as well as cutting directed government subsidies to businesses and corporations (which are in effect “spending”). It would be helpful to identify the relative contributions of these different elements to the overall picture. It is certainly the case that defense and so-called “middle-class entitlements” constitute the largest part of the problem.
Some of the differences appear to be at the level of what responsibilities government should provide. Citing China’s education statistics should be accompanied by the clear understanding that in both business and education, the Chinese government is extremely intrusive and directive. Steve doesn’t seem to want “no government” – few do – and so the argument is really about the SCOPE of government. The details of what government should and should not do are often obscured by slogans – “get government out of our lives” or “humans are social beings” – the latter is of course true, but “social” need not mean “government.” Anyway, it seems to me more helpful to have discussions about what exactly it makes sense for governments to do, and then move to empirics to carefully analyze HOW they might best do it.
Finally, some of the differences do appear to be on what might be called the ideological level, or the level of worldview. I was troubled by the idea that unions are just another form of government, for example. Granting the potential corrpution of the union movement, even in education, when unions come to consider themselves a kind of entrenched interest, which simply defend their members at all costs, rather than work with management/elected leaders for the common good – granting all that, it is still the case that unions are a matter of empowering individual workers to act collectively, instead of simply submitting themselves to large systems. This is why they were started in the nineteenth century, why they are supported by Catholic social teaching, and why they are still resisted like a disease by large employers who recognize that unions will inevitably give employees bargaining power and some control over working conditions (which are otherwise regulated by the government!). At some level, the suspicion of any collective action, on any level, is quite simply unreal. And therefore “ideological” in the proper sense. Unfortunately, such ideological arguments obscure real, distinct points (e.g. about the abject failings of our educational system) with which I agree. Some of the symptoms are problems; but the underlying disease is misidentified. Kids in America don’t learn enough physics or math not because teachers don’t care (mostly they do), or because of the government. They don’t do it largely because corporations have created a media culture directly aimed at children which constantly undercuts the value of real education in favor of other goods, and especially financial goods. And of course parents are often captured by this same culture, and so pass it on to their children. That’s also oversimplified, but it’s hard to deny the problem.