America Morality

On Exceptionalism

My children are exceptional. They just are. I’m sorry if you don’t like to hear that. I will always choose them over your children. You should get used to that.

My children are exceptional in that I am prepared to work and sacrifice that they may become amazing people. But no matter what kind of people they become, I will love them. When I say that, I mean that I will always hope for wonderful things for them in a way that I will never feel for your children. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate your children’s talents and successes. They’re great. But they’re not my children. Objectively, I know mine won’t always perform better than your children but I’m prepared to stand by them even when they come in last place. I’ll even cheer for your children or coach them or encourage them, but not like I cheer for mine. I’ll take their side in a disagreement. Probably I’ll do this more than I ought, but there are plenty of people ready to thwart my children. They deserve at least one consistent ally.

I realize that you feel the same way about your children and that there’s a certain symmetry that makes my conclusion (that my children are the best) no more valid than yours. You’re entitled to your wrong opinion.

But mine is a wide-eyed love. I see the mistakes my children make. Not to see them would be to fail them in my responsibility to make them better. I do not blindly defend my children’s actions, nor do I always submit to their wishes or follow their plans. Again, to pretend they always do right is not love. It’s laziness and bad parenting.

So, too, with my country. I love the United States more than any country in the world. I’ll always hope for her success in every arena. When we do wrong, as a country, I’m going to speak up. That how much I love the USA. There is a set of people who think that pointing out the ways the America has done wrong is not patriotism. They think I should deny the Tuskegee experiment and redlining and Stonewall and the Battle of Blair Mountain and just keep waving the flag as if nothing ever happened. I fear for those people’s children. Because that’s not love. It’s cowardice. It takes work and courage to love a country that’s not perfect.

There may be a lot of fine things about your country (unless you’re Belgian. Belgium is the worst.). Some things about your country are undoubtedly better than mine (again, except for Belgium). But it will never be my home. I know America has given us atrocities like the trail of tears and Nagasaki and Iraq and Fergie and Iraq again, but it also gifted the world a lot of nobility and beauty and peace including my beautiful childhood. And so, I’ll sing my lungs out when the Star-Spangled Banner plays. And I’ll paint my face red, white and blue and chant “I believe that we will win!” And I’ll fight for her on varied battlefields.

The other thing I love about both my children and my country is their potential to be even greater. I’ll do what I can to make them all beacons of truth and righteousness. Because that’s what love looks like.

Economics Morality

Selfishness is Good

For our first real post, we’ll turn to a deeply entrenched conservative belief. You might expect this on a site called ThisCentury(and Last)InStupid. It’s the idea that selfishness isn’t so bad after all. In fact, we could use more of it.

Occasionally, someone comes out and states this explicitly, but not usually.  More often its the implied justification of cruel policy. Or it appears as an allegory as in Paul Ryan’s favorite ode to greed, Atlas Shrugged. As will be familiar to many, Atlas Shrugged is a novel by uber-capitalist and self-professed narcissist Ayn Rand about a fictional America in which all the captains of industry tire of being disrespected, regulated, demonized and (most egregiously) taxed and decide to flee society to a secret mountain enclave and live together in capitalist utopia. The rest of the country, bereft of its “engine” grinds to a halt. Poverty and violence ensue.

This vision is the engine behind Republican policies that, sometimes quite overtly, enrich


the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. One fine recent example is the refusal of Republican Governors across the country to expand Medicaid in their states. Although it would cost their governments very little, and benefit the poor quite a lot, the principle of giving as little to the poor as you can get away with is so ingrained that they’d rather leave the poor without health care and let them be treated in emergency rooms and the cost of their unpaid care absorbed into the premiums of the rest of the state.

Or there’s the fact that we can’t close the “carried interest” loophole by which the income of hedge fund managers is taxed as if it were long-term capital gains or dividends (on assets they don’t own!). No matter how you feel about lower rates on capital gains, these are clearly income. So, you have people paying 15% on their multi-million dollar income. The people emptying their trash pay a higher rate. There are efforts at very high levels to fix this, but none very successful.

Agitation against sensible policies to alleviate poverty are often accompanied by mumbled pseudo-economic arguments about how discouraging the money-making activities of the wealthy will harm us all or how giveaways to the poor create dependency. But, simmering beneath the surface of these attempts to make economics support fiscal austerity is an audacious Republican hope–one buoyed by this Randian vision. The wish at the heart of modern conservatism is that selfishness, in the end, will turn out to be altruism—that, when the score is all tallied, the best thing we can do for the poor is to stick it to them just as hard as we can. Thus conservative guilt is swept away by one swift stroke of Milton Friedman’s pen.  This miraculous moral alchemy whereby, if two wrongs don’t make a right, nonetheless, two million do, is unchallenged on the Right since Adam Smith despite its manifest stupidity. This is partly because it’s unstated but also because it’s so damned useful. It was useful during the Cold War marriage of what today are called social and fiscal conservatism by severing the link between Christian charity and social welfare. It continues to be useful in justifying the neglect or animosity toward the social contract by the upper and middle classes today. It makes conservatism easier on the soul.

Now, some conservatives will try to separate personal and public morality saying that while public welfare programs harm the poor, private programs are another matter altogether. Of course, the original source of the charity can’t likely save the poor from the dependency-producing effects of free stuff. This view is likely more closely related to another pervasive dose of stupid up for discussion in a later post : “The government can’t do anything right.”

So, you heard it here first: Selfishness isn’t good. It isn’t noble or necessary or even inevitable. It wrecks communities and nations and, in a cosmically ironic twist, makes it’s practitioners the most miserable of all.