Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ideological Inconsistency

I am becoming increasingly frustrated by what is apparently the most widespread epidemic in the world today, ideological inconsistency.  From the pundits to the electorate, few have managed to escape a malady afflicting the nation.  While I don't consider myself above occasional bouts that must be treated, I do try however to give myself regular inoculations of the cold, hard facts in a largely successful prophylactic effort.  Perhaps that's why the dissonance of arguments on both the left and the right seem so confusing to me these days.

Conservatives want to remove subsidies from farmers (something long overdue), solar and wind technology, and ethanol producers.  They claim that industries and technologies that are marketable do not require government assistance in order to survive.  How then do we explain the inconsistency to their wanting to continue subsidies to oil companies and defense contractors?  Is the oil industry not profitable without government assistance?  If such assistance were removed, would they not maintain their profit margins through the market?  And how much has been and is still being poured into corporations developing technologies that this country will never deploy in its own defense?  How much treasure is wasted in contractor malfeasance and featherbedding for projects woefully behind schedule or those that will never succeed?  

Progressives for their part, want to pull the financial plug on any form of energy coming from oil and coal which are already in place and generating inexpensive power much needed for potential economic growth; leaving in place supports for energy sources that will never be more than marginal ones incapable of supplying current, let alone future needs, in anything like their present form.  They somehow manage to forget fact that according to their ideology, subsidizing corporations is inherently evil (especially when any of their manufacturing is done overseas), apparently capable of setting aside such ideology in the name of 'green technology'.  Ideology likewise seems irrelevant when it's pointed out that ethanol produces more pollution (and less energy) than oil; or the concept that while mercury pollution produced by the burning of coal is unforgivable, that released when an energy-saving light bulb is broken is OK.

Meanwhile Congress continues pointless ideological discussions of how to cut the growth of spending in the future instead of the actual spending in the present that's behind our runaway debt. In a perfect example of conflicted dogma, the left and right simultaneously debate how to raise revenue (taxes) without raising taxes (except on those paying most of them already).  Naively believing that this time they can tax the hideously rich (some of whom are already in Congress) without having them lobby their way around it or move their money out of the US to avoid such taxation entirely (and further hurting the economy); they ignore the elephant in the room that even if they were capable of such a monumental feat of legislative legerdemain, the sum taken in wouldn't come close to balancing the government's books (paying 1-2% of the current deficit by most respected estimates).

While they wrestle with this insubstantial demon, the unmistakable monster of government bureaucracy before them continues its reign of terror, absorbing more money and power with each passing moment.  In this government-approved version of "Oliver Twist", the young orphan attacks the grown-ups with his plate, and beats them about the head and ears while taking whatever he determines is his fair share. Ideologically weak legislators on both sides of the aisle, intimidated by this unruly juvenile delinquent, seem unwilling or unable to curb his monstrous appetite; nor can they deny him the increasing authority he takes without asking.  Regardless of Ideology, everything be damned when the business of 'government as usual' is at stake for these unelected courtiers of an increasingly corrupt system.

And of course what discussion of distorted and duplicitous ideology would be complete without touching on the choosing of a Republican challenger for the sitting President that's so much in the news and on the minds of 'those who know'.  USA Today for example, talks recently about non-candidate Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey never entering the race as a governor who after all, "has held office for less than two years" (a crime that they consider Sarah Palin equally guilty of).  True enough as far as it goes, unless one wishes to look at the time before Christie entered office, when in 2008 we elected a junior Senator from Illinois with 'less than two years experience' (and who spent most of that time campaigning for the office he currently holds), to the highest office in the land .

Not to be left out on capricious and incoherent thinking, those on the right still talk about a movement to draft this man of relative inexperience during the national convention where they hope to pick a replacement for one that they complain does not have a proper background and experience of leadership required to perform this function.  

Herman Cain is likewise attacked for a lack of experience from the left and the right, but no one asks whether the experience of running a profitable business is better that of leading an unprofitable government, or why the experience of being a professional politician is a good in and of itself.  We've had experienced politicians in the White House much of the 20th and 21st Century after all, and what have they gotten us except into the mess we now find ourselves desperately seeking a way out of.

Strangely, the only candidate with a consistent ideology is the one most disregarded and demonized.  One cannot help but wonder that if consistent ideology is sought by Republicans, what clearer choice could they have?  Who has more knowledge of what caused the financial disaster we stand on the brink of or spoken more clearly on its solutions?  Who has likewise spoken more often and plainly on a return to a Constitutionally limited government that so many claim as their ideology? 

Instead of praise for such ideological purity however, Paul has been marginalized.  In spite of the fact that he has more experience at working with Democrats and Republicans alike in Congress than any of his counterparts, he's seen as unable to do so.  In spite of apparently standing for exactly what the Republican electorate claims they want from the next candidate for the highest office in the land, the argument continues to be over which of the other candidates is the most electable lesser of evils.  

Like Alice down the rabbit hole, the whole concept of consistent ideology has become 'curiouser and curiouser'.  At a time when we most need an outlook based on an objective analysis of the facts before us, what we get is anything but. The facts today don't seem to count except in how they are capable of being edited into soundbites that fit a pre-existing ideological vision more twisted than the Red Queen. We've so lost sight of what it means to hold firm to anything like the tenets of a consistent personal philosophy that we may soon use H G Wells instead of Charles Dodgson to say that, 'in this country of the blind, the one-eyed man will soon be forced to have government mandated and paid for Lasix surgery'. 



Maggie Thurber said...

Consistency in position and philosophy is critical. It's one of the reasons I've always been a fan of Ron Paul. Love him or hate him, he consistently looks first to the Constitution before casting a vote.

But sometimes, terms can be confusing and make it seem like an inconsistency when it really isn't. The term 'subsidies' has been applied to everything from direct cash outlays to various companies or industries to specific items in the tax code that allow individuals to take deductions. Some believe that the deduction for home mortgage interest is a subsidy - others say that the EITC is a subsidy.

Clearly, paying tax dollars to a company (through either a direct outlay, grant or a loan) is a subsidy, but not everyone would say that a tax deduction equals subsidy.

For instance, most say that a business tax deduction for R&D isn't a subsidy, but when there is a deduction *only* for oil or gas exploration, it's easy to see how others believe it becomes a subsidy.

When some Rs talk about ending subsidies, they're talking about the direct payments to either an industry or a specific company. When some D's talk about ending subsidies, they're talking about all the tax deductions written into the tax code - but only for the industries they don't personally like.

As a result, there is confusion and the appearance of a inconsistency.

In the end, controlling the language is critical.

Timothy W Higgins said...

I couldn't agree more on Ron Paul, whether I ultimately decide to cast a vote for him or not.

As for the concept of subsidies, I fear we have used language as a means of obfuscation rather than a road to clarity for far too long. Too many choose their definition based on whether it contributes to their rice bowl, not understanding the greater consequences of such a choice.

A mortgage tax deduction encourages the purchases of larger houses, which in turn feeds the real estate bubble. Granting breaks to oil and gas companies for exploration, rather than letting them build them into their cost of doing business, encourages exploration, not production. Backing loans to 'green energy' concerns apparently encourages shoddy accounting and stock manipulation.

Of course much of the confusion could be solved if we took government out of the discussion entirely, and stopped allowing Washington to pick winners and losers. Giving a government dollar to anyone means taking it from someone else.

I saw an interesting and illustrative bit by John Stossel today, pointing to the government funding used to build the transcontinental railroad system. Many point to this as an example of how government can help technology development and support the creation of infrastructure, never realizing that every one of the railroads that received such funding filed for bankruptcy.