Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Blog Article 255: My Absolute Best

I leave for graduate school on Sunday, July 11th, which means that between the preparations which will precede my leaving for Rutgers-Newark (partying as well as working) and the labor load that will undoubtedly descend upon me once I have begun my education there, I will have very little time to update this blog. While I don't expect that it will be abandoned altogether, it certainly needs to be suspended right now, and will quite likely go through long periods of inactivity in the future. That is why I want to leave on a strong note - in this case, with a re-posting of the blog article that, in my opinion, remains my absolute best. It is poetically appropriate that it is also one of my very first pieces on this website.

True American Economic Policy
March 6, 2009

Republicans and so-called “moderates” from both parties are screaming about the “socialistic” policies being proposed by President Obama. So far as they are concerned, Obama’s ideas are entirely consistent with the incendiary “class warfare” rhetoric in these two quotes:

"I hope we shall...crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

“The bank mania is raising up a moneyed aristocracy in our country which has already set the government at defiance, and although forced at length to yield a little on this first essay of their strength, their principles are unyielded and unyielding. These have taken deep root in the hearts of that class from which our legislators are drawn, and the sop to Cerberus from fable has become good history. Their principles lay hold of the good, their pelf of the bad, and thus those whom the Constitution has placed as guards to its portals, are sophisticated or suborned from their duties.”

They would also agree that it bears a striking similarity to the economic philosophy both implicitly and explicitly espoused in these two passages:

"It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society - the farmers, mechanics, and laborers who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves - have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing."

“Unless you become more watchful in your States and check this spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges you will in the end find that the most important powers of Government have been given or bartered away, and the control over your dearest interests has passed into the hands of these corporations."

Needless to say, they would simply relish the opportunity to pounce on the way Obama’s ideas resemble those conveyed by the 19th Century radical who penned the words presented below:

“In my present position I could scarcely be justified were I to omit raising a warning voice against this approach of returning despotism.

“It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.

“Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

“Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them...

“Again, as has already been said, there is not of necessity any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all. No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.”

One can hardly argue that Obama’s efforts to use an activist government to promote economic egalitarianism, and his populist insistence that the power of big business poses a grave threat to our most fundamental freedoms, does fall completely in line with the statements quoted above. Indeed, I have shown some of these passages to many friends, who are quick to recognize within them many menacingly Marxist traits.

The only problem is that none of them were written by Karl Marx. The first two were culled from letters written by none other than Thomas Jefferson during the years following his presidency (the first to Pennsylvania Senator George Logan in November 1816 and the second to a Dr. J. B. Stuart in March 1817); the next two come from Andrew Jackson, who wrote them during his term of office (the first is an excerpt from his address on the fight against the Second Bank of the United States in December 1832, and the second from his Farewell Address in March 1837); and the final passage comes from the State of the Union address as presented to the United States Congress by the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, in December 1861.

With the exception of the Lincoln quote, all of these passages were written well before Marx had published his seminal economic works, including Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (published in 1844, shockingly enough), Wage-Labor and Capital (1847), and The Communist Manifesto (1848). Even Lincoln’s remarks predated the most famous of Marx’s writings, Das Kapital (1867). In short, although Republicans love to claim that the populist style and pro-actively anti-plutocratic tone of Barack Obama is covertly pro-Marx and overtly un-American, they are actually rebelling against ideas that were as American as the stars-and-stripes well before Karl Marx introduced himself to the world.

First Postscript:
There is one Lincoln quote that would have been perfect in the above article but which, for some reason, I neglected to include:

"While we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else."
- Abraham Lincoln (1860)

Second Postscript:
I was also remiss in failing to include three quotes by Theodore Roosevelt which - though dating to the period after his presidency - were clearly intended to encapsulate the philosophy he held during his time in office. The first comes from a speech delivered in Osawatomie, Kansas on August 31, 1910, which outlined the progressive ideology he would later dub 'The New Nationalism':

"No man can be a good citizen unless he has a wage more than sufficient to cover the bare cost of living, and hours of labor short enough so that after his day's work is done he will have time and energy to bear his share in the management of the community, to help in carrying the general load."

The last two excerpts were culled from speeches Roosevelt delivered during his third-party presidential campaign in 1912. First there is a passage from his acceptance address at the national convention of the Progressive Party (better known among its supporters as the "Bull Moose Party"), which nominated Roosevelt as its candidate:

"We stand for a living wage. Wages are subnormal if they fail to provide a living for those who devote their time and energy to industrial occupations. The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living--a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness, and to permit of reasonable saving for old age."

Finally there is a quote from a ninety-minute oration Roosevelt delivered shortly after being shot in the chest by a would-be assassin:

"It is essential that there should be organizations of labor. This is an era of organization. Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize."

Third Postscript:
It occurs to me that the article which I consider to be "my absolute best" does not put forth any original ideas of my own, but instead merely re-states and analyzes the ideas of other thinkers and statesmen who came before me. While this might be a cause of embarrassment for some, I actually take tremendous pride in it. I have long believed that, contrary to the conventional wisdom which has dominated our political discourse since the ascent of Ronald Reagan, America's greatness is as a direct result of its being the world's first, foremost, and boldest liberal civilization. As such, all true liberals (whether they realize it or not) draw their ideological sustenance from the principles articulated by America's most ardent champions of human rights and freedom. It is this steadfast belief in the American vision that lies at the core of the liberal philosophy - and thus of my own.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

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