Virginia Kruta (left), an associate editor for the conservative Daily Caller site. wrote an article last week about attending a Democrat rally. Kruta couldn’t believe what she was hearing. All these people thought the commonweal should be expanded to cover all sorts of outrageous things. Healthcare for all, for example, was a good idea! The thing that she found most worrying though was that in the excitement of a rally, she could see why people might believe that was a good idea. She was horrified! Her article attracted the attention of Fox News (naturally), and that led to an on-air interview.


Kruta’s shock at the feelings of those at the rally led to the amusement of many on the Left. Parts of her article, which was peppered with phrases like “truly terrifying,” were shared on social media. Here’s some of it:

But then Ocasio-Cortez spoke, followed by Bush, and I saw something truly terrifying. I saw just how easy it would be, were I less involved and less certain of our nation’s founding and its history, to fall for the populist lines they were shouting from that stage.

  • I saw how easy it would be, as a parent, to accept the idea that my children deserve healthcare and education.
  • I saw how easy it would be, as someone who has struggled to make ends meet, to accept the idea that a “living wage” was a human right.
  • Above all, I saw how easy it would be to accept the notion that it was the government’s job to make sure that those things were provided.

I watched as both Ocasio-Cortez and Bush deftly chopped America up into demographics, pointed out how those demographics had been victimized under the current system, and then promised to be the voice for those demographics. The movement, Ocasio-Cortez shouted, “knows no zip code. It knows no state. It knows no race. It knows no gender. It knows no documented status.”

This incident inspired USian reader/commenter Linda Calhoun to write the following excellent post about the commonweal from her point of view.


The Commonweal
by Linda Calhoun

Last week conservative pundit Virginia Kruta wrote and spoke about attending a “progressive” campaign rally.  She used the phrase “truly terrifying” to describe her feelings and experience when she heard candidates speak about providing health care and education to children.

The internet, as you might expect, exploded with laughter.  Especially when one considers all the hate-mongering vitriol which characterizes right wing rallies, the irony is overwhelming.

But, as I started thinking more seriously about the worldviews represented by these people, I realized that there really are some serious issues worth confronting.

The commonweal, or common welfare, consists of those activities which societies believe are worth requiring their citizens to contribute to.  The most obvious examples are defense at the national level, infrastructure items such as water, sewer, electricity, and waste disposal, roads, fire and police protection, and in most cases, education, although that last one has been seriously under attack by the right wing lately.

On one end of the spectrum, you have those who believe that only defense should be included in the commonweal.  I recently heard one person opine that even defense should be privatized, although when I asked him exactly how he envisioned that working he was, predictably, vague.

On the other end, you have those who think that recreation opportunities such as parks, healthcare, and even “living wage” should be included.

How does a society decide what is worth funding?  How does the society go about providing the money to fund those activities?  How are they prioritized?  How are they maintained?

Tax strategies vary from place to place, but most places start with property taxes and sales taxes.  At the national level, we have income taxes, and some states also have income taxes, which they divide amongst the counties and municipalities, while reserving some for operations statewide.  Income taxes tend to be “progressive”, meaning that, as a percentage of income, the more one makes, they more one pays.  Sales taxes, on the other hand, are more “regressive”, so that as a percentage of income, the poorer you are, the more you must contribute.  We had a candidate (Republican, naturally) for Governor a few years back who kept saying during the campaign that Texas “had no taxes”.  He was holding this up to our state as the way it should be here.  But, Texas has no INCOME taxes.  The state has astronomical sales taxes, so the burden of paying for state and local activities of government falls hardest on the poorest citizens.  He lost his race that year.  Unfortunately, he won last time around, and he is our current Lieutenant Governor.  He’s termed out, so we’ll be rid of him at the end of the year.

Many activities that are part of the commonweal pay a long-term dividend.  Sometimes that’s not obvious, so those who don’t want to see them included only talk about the upfront cost of those activities.  Good examples of this are education and healthcare.  Educated people are more likely to become productive, contributing citizens, paying back many times over what the society invested in their education.  Healthy people contribute more, are absent from work less, and cost less than sick people.  But, if you’re programmed to see only the cost, the idea of investment for the future payoff is not on your radar.

The conservative philosophy relies on the concept that private is ALWAYS better than public.  As a related idea, the philosophy says that the market, with its aspects of competition and profit motive, will ALWAYS produce a better result than “government”.  It behooves us to ask if this is ALWAYS the case.  It seems to me that there are plenty of examples where the commonweal will function better than the for-profit business.

One case where this should be obvious (but isn’t) is the for-profit prison industry.  I live in Torrance County, New Mexico, which, a year ago, lost its major employer, a for-profit prison.  That loss has devastated the economy of our county seat.  We have also lost a necessary service for the entire area.  Prisoners, who should be incarcerated locally, are now transported a hundred miles.  This includes drunks, minor traffic offenders, and others who would be released the next day, but now must be housed until they can be processed.  The county is paying for transport, for personnel to do the transport, for meals, etc. while they’re in custody, and other expenses that we wouldn’t have if we had a local lockup.

The county got sucked into using a private prison company when the company dangled the prospect of much-increased revenue were they to locate here.  Greed and stupidity took over, and so it was decided.  The county officials never considered the possibility that they would be left up the creek if/when the for-profit company decided that they weren’t making enough profit.

And, consider the social cost as well.  How do you grow a business?  Well, you grow a business by increasing your customer base.  So, the for-profit prison company has no interest in rehabilitation.  Quite the opposite.  If people pull themselves together and become law-abiding, contributing citizens, it’s better for the society, but worse for the company, which has now just lost a customer.  But, if people fail, and are returned to lockup, the company now gets paid, once again.

The US has 6% of the world’s population, and 25% of the world’s prison population.  What is the point of trying to increase that?  From the company’s viewpoint, making more money is the point.  From society’s viewpoint?  Duh.

Another example:  Recently a friend of mine was researching a nursing program she was interested in.  Our state university which offers the program charges $12,500 per year tuition.  A private, for-profit college in the area charges $22,500 per year for the same program.  The $10,000 difference does not benefit the students, but goes into the pockets of the investor-owners of the private school.  And, their student body is not as competent, since the criterion for admission into the private school is whether you can pay the money.  There are prerequisite requirements for admission into the public university which don’t exist in the private school.

So, why would someone like Kruta find inclusion into the commonweal of education and healthcare “terrifying” when those activities seem like obviously good investments for society?

The conservative philosophy sees fear as the major means of shaping behavior.  The philosophy postulates that any support given to people makes them weak and lazy.  So, if education and healthcare are included into the commonweal, the recipients of those benefits will become deadbeats and parasites.

How should we respond to that?  It’s incorrect, but I would say that there is a grain of truth there, and that that should be acknowledged by those of us who would like to see the commonweal expanded.  That grain of truth is often denied.

When I was an undergrad, I lived in two different places where a large house was shared by several people.  The rent, and the maintenance, and the activities of daily living, were supposed to be shared amongst the residents.  Each would pay a small amount of rent, much smaller than living alone would cost.  A great idea, in theory, but in neither place did the reality match the theory.

In the first place, people moved out mid-semester, meaning that it was impossible to budget how much each person would need for rent.  Others stayed, but didn’t pay their share, so those of us with a sense of responsibility either had to make up the difference or lose our home.  Some of us cooked and cleaned and did laundry, and others didn’t.  In one situation, we somehow acquired a few “hippie travelers”, who stayed, rent-free, expense-free, as they sucked the group tit.  One of them even had the gall to suggest that our possessions should be held collectively.  What, my underwear?  My toothbrush?  No, he had his eye on my guitar, which I had bought with an inheritance.  Most of them didn’t know that I kept a horse. (He wouldn’t have suggested sharing her, or the expense of keeping her because he didn’t care about that.)  He just wanted a treasured possession of mine and he thought of a way to guilt trip me into forking it over.   It didn’t work, and it pissed me off a bunch.

The second group living arrangement was a little better, but not much.  I finally moved out and found a place by myself, where I was responsible for me and nobody else.

So, back to Kruta.  She’s assuming that most of the population is like my deadbeat housemates.  Is that accurate?  No.  But, there are some people like that out there, and they’re infuriating.  I think it’s best to acknowledge that.  I also think that it’s possible, and desirable, to set up programs in the commonweal to mitigate the problems of waste and abuse.  The investment payback is huge, and well worth the effort.  And, it’s in society’s interest to make that investment, both financially and socially.

Items such as “living wage” are, in my opinion, more debatable.  But, at this point in our society’s life, it seems to me that we’ve gone so far in the other direction that there needs to be some balance restored.  Besides education and healthcare, investment in our environment, including national parks and forests, investment in science and research, and investment in maintaining social security are worthwhile uses of our tax money.  I’m not sure why conservatives hate the idea of being ripped off by poor people, but love the idea of being ripped off by rich people.

But, wherever we decide the best investments are, there is, and should be, a commonweal.

 


 

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