So I was responding to this comment on FB:
strong programs that encourage consumerism over production make me frustrated. go MAKE something. stop complaining about other people’s attempts to make something, and CERTAINLY don’t let a self-interested entity like government “regulate” businesses that they meddle with based solely on maximizing profitability for the gov’t. perfect examples: ANY farm vs monsanto. that organic cleaning supplies company vs the FDA. the WHOLE documentary “Farmageddon”. on one hand, the little guys can’t compete with government regulations that are only in place to keep mega corp kickbacks coming. on the other hand, if more people joined “the little guys” we could stop bitching about who’s paying what wages and start worrying about what WE will pay OUR employees.
… and I ended up writing such an incredibly long response that FB told me it was too long and I had to try again. I’m actually embarrassed to admit this happens to me regularly. I could try posting it over several comments, but it’s late and I’m lazy. So instead … tadum! I post it here, and then cross-post this entry to the FB comment. Problem solved!
So, my response …
Corporations that encourage throw-away consumption over sustainable production frustrate me, too. I don’t complain about other peoples attempts to make something. I object to shipping jobs overseas, not paying living wages, and utilizing discriminatory tactics to divide the working class against itself. Production, I encourage. I buy locally made and produced foods and items whenever possible. If I can’t buy Washington-made, I try to buy American made.
I believe in government. I believe that government can be used on behalf of the people, to strengthen the nation and the community. We tried states rights immediately after the Revolutionary War, and the fledgling country almost tore itself apart. That’s why we had the constitutional convention and created the constitution — because we tried to make a go of it without a strong federal government, and nearly failed.
Over the history of our country, government programs have done horrible things (the American Japanese concentration camps, Native American extermination programs, encoding slavery into the Constitution), but they’ve also done admirable and great things (ending slavery, even at the risk to our internal cohesion; ending the Great Depression; entering WWII; constitutionally protecting the civil rights of women and people of color). I believe that in a functioning democracy, government can be a boon to the people.
I also believe we do not currently live in a functioning democracy, and we need to limit the power of corporations which are currently influencing legislation, government, and the courts to the extent that we can no longer call America a country with democratic capitalism. It is a capitalist oligarchy.
In the 1800s, the government passed a series of Homestead Acts, which allowed many working class Americans (mostly white males) the opportunity to go out West and claim a plot of land. This was not (and is not) seen as government welfare, but as “encouraging growth” and “helping small businesses.” That land passed down or was sold, and the money used to fund businesses or the education of later generations. Wealth was passed on through families and businesses because of that government program.
In the early 1900s, white Southerners restricted voting rights and employment/ living opportunities for people of color. Across America, practices like redlining, color bars in unions, and employment discrimination systemically impoverished people of color. Sometimes when a town or area (like black Tulsa) did well, the neighboring white community would raid the town and take their businesses, homes, and accumulated wealth. This benefited the whites, not just of that generation but for generations after. This harmed the people of color, not just those who immediately lost their businesses and goods, but the generations that came after and lost that intergenerational wealth.
In the 1950s, thousands of returned (white) GIs acquired their college degrees and went into white collar industries. The veterans of color were overwhelmingly denied that same benefit. Labor union membership (still rife with color bars) plataued. So all this created a history where people of color were systemically discriminated against, not protected by their government, unable to even access government programs, and unable to build the wealth/ businesses/ productivity that you trumpet. Credit for inventions by people of color was taken by whites, as well as the wealth.
And this happens over and over and over with communities of color — hell, the Japanese concentration camps were part racism, part jealousy. Japanese immigrants ran most of the small farms in Eastern Washington and had actually started the Pike Place Farmers Market. When the US gov’t shuffled the Japanese (but not Germans or Italians) into concentration camps, their neighbors stole their businesses and farms, and few gave them back. Japanese Americans were eventually given reparations of 10 cents on the dollar.
So you sit here and say, “People should be paid what their work is worth, and the government shouldn’t get involved,” and I’m sitting here going, “Dude, we have a 200+ year history of people getting enslaved and imprisoned and discriminated against because the corporate interests in our country were more interest in producing cheap sugar/ cotton/ tobacco/ labor than they were in ‘paying what people were worth’.”
And that’s not all! We have a 200+ year history of the government turning a blind eye to this shit because the corporate interests were successful in a) buying off government representatives and b) convincing the white working class that they were the real hard workers, and everyone else was just a bunch of lazy fucks sucking off the teat of the government and the taxes of the working class.
When the government DID get involved, rare as it was, THINGS CHANGED. When the gov’t DID say, “Fucking enough with this slavery,” they passed the Emancipation Proclamation, fought a war, gave black people the vote, and even passed a Civil Rights Act. Yeah, the 1964 Civil Rights Act was the SECOND civil rights legislation we passed — the first one was ignored because they used colorblind language, instead of specifically saying, “Do not discriminate against black people.”
And when the gov’t said, “Enough with this fucking wealth inequality and child labor,” THEY CHANGED THINGS. They passed laws to make child labor illegal, and they set a minimum wage, and they set required safety protocols so children wouldn’t be dying in anymore factory fires.
And when the gov’t said, “Enough with these fucking Nazis,” they went into WWII and THEY CHANGED THINGS. And when they said, “Fucking enough with this Jim Crow bullshit,” THEY CHANGED THINGS. They passed a law guaranteeing equality.
So you sit here and tell me the government is useless, and I sit here and think they’re only useless because people like you are convinced it’s all a scam and have given up and let the corporations have their oligarchy. You won’t even fight back. You’re just rolling over and crying about how much government and consumerism sucks, while at the same time saying how you wanna be a millionaire and the rest of us are lazy because we believe in community and country and government.
But! But here’s the thing — the government didn’t just sit up one day and say, “Huh, what were we thinking protecting slavery and all that fuckery? Man, we must have been smoking crack — let’s fix that shit right up!” No! They resisted, at first. But the people, the American people, they pressured their government to do the right thing. They pressured the government to free the slaves. They educated other people. They stood on street corners and lectured, they passed out pamphlets, they rioted, they took photographs of the people being harmed by colorblind and discriminatory government policies, and they engaged in often-unpopular and decades-long campaigns to force their government to act in the interests of the people. To protect the people. To be a government, not a military puppet hand of corporate greed.
The problem here is not government. Government is supposed to be shaped and formed by the people. The problem is that people gave up on the government. In the 1950s, suburbia and post-war wealth meant there was a television in every home. Vietnam was the first war where the news coverage was televised on screen, in your living room. Over the next few decades, televisions and internet and interconnected media everywhere gave us all a 24/hour stream of news, and people saw video images of the terror of war in Vietnam, and people watched nuclear bomb tests on the tv screens in their living rooms.
Suddenly, war and crime were real and in your living room, on your tv, in your face in a way they’d never been in the history of mankind before. And since then, it’s just gotten worse, even as the world has actually gotten better with less crime, less war, and less inequality. But some people looked at all this fucked up-ed-ness on the news and they just give up. They blame the government and corporations and all those lazy fucks the government entitled with their aid programs, and they give up trying to change the world.
It’s funny, too, how the definition of “welfare” has changed over the past century. When government programs funded the Homestead Acts and GI bills and VA home mortgages for white people, that wasn’t “welfare” or “sucking off the government teat.” But when government mandates a minimum wage or basic fucking labor safety or some goddamn health insurance, that’s “sucking off the government teat” and welfare. Nobody calls student financial aid programs “sucking off the government teat.” They call it a wise investment, and have whole classes set up to teach middle and upper class American youth have to navigate this educational maze. You know when unions started losing popularity among the average Joe? In the 1960s/ 1970s, when color bars became illegal.
The government should be regulating (and taxing) the big-ass corporations more heavily, as well as enforcing labor laws. They should punish the big-ass corporations for shifting their labor, taxes, and income offshore. They should institute fines and tariffs on major corporations that suck America dry and put nothing back into her.
The government should also encourage small business growth. I am the daughter of a small business owner, the (former) employee of several small business owners, and the friend of even more small business owners. Small business often operate very close to the line, and I’ve worked for more than one small employer who was a nice person but a fucking shitty boss. Small business owners are regularly forced to choose between the well being of their employees (who are often friends or family members) and the success of their business. Pay a living wage or cut the employee wages and pay the operating/ licensing taxes and fees?
I do not want to be a small business employer, or a producer. I do want to be an author. But I do not want to be in the position of trying to decide whether to pay my employee a living wage or shut down my business. I do not want to compromise my values or integrity in the pursuit of profit. I am not interested in becoming an employer in America, because the choice is too often money or the value of a human being, and that is quite simply a choice I do not want to make.
I don’t know if you read that whole thing. I would say TL;DR: brief history of capitalism in America, but I’m tired and getting bored of writing this. I understand your stance. I’ve heard it many times. Your views are not new to me. I have discussed this ad nauseum with many libertarians and redditors who admire Ayn Rand and are dismissive of the long-term impact of the tides of history on modern times.
Truth is, I don’t like having this discussion with people who are unwilling or unable to acknowledge the intergenerational disparate impact caused by uneven distributions of wealth, the role a changing pop culture/ mediascape has on society, and the benefits of a well-managed government. This is not a black and white issue that boils down to “Government bad, work good,” this is a nuanced and complicated issue with many intersecting factors.
There is a reason I do not like to argue politics with people. I don’t want to disrespect your views, but I also feel as though you are trying to convince me to yours — as though you think I haven’t heard your arguments before, or considered that point of view. As though I have always been a static, unconsidering pro-government liberal, rather than someone who came to my political beliefs after years of study and consideration.
Over the past decade, my views and attitudes shifted from conservative religious Republican to progressive atheist liberal. This was not some sort of reactive rebellion against my upbringing and loss of faith — my politics actually changed before my religious views did. For several years, those political personality calculators were classifying me as a libertarian — small government, anti-union (well, I thought unions had once been useful, but that time was past) and not a believer in government programs to combat discrimination — but socially progressive. Pro-gay, feminist, that sort of thing.
But I kept reading. I kept studying. I kept learning. I linked modern political events with eerily similar historical events — labor riots, wealth inequality, tax questions, racialized systems of labor, legislative actions. I learned how labor law has been stifled and silenced since the 1950s through a series of limiting court decisions. As I took in all this new information about my history and my country and my government, my views shifted, and I realized that the Ayn Randian ideals of small government/ self-sustainment are incompatible and unsustainable in modern society. Quite frankly, I’m not convinced they’re sustainable in any society — they are isolationist, reductive, hypocritical, and not suited to the complexities of the real world.