God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen - Jars of Clay - listen now

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

IS CAPITALISM TOO RISKY FOR YOUR TASTE?

I've been part of an interesting on-going discuss over at the blog Pizza Poems. It started with this post about New Orleans laying off 3,000 city workers in the wake of Hurrican Katrina, and has become a debate about how much we should expect the government to do for us, versus going it alone. Take a gander at it and give me your 2 cents.

The following two comments are totally out of order - many things were said before them, between them, and will surely be said after them, but they stand on their own as far as giving a good sense of the debate that is happening. I encourage you to read the whole thread to understand everything that is being said. The first is by Renata, the Pizza Poems blogger, the second is my latest response in the conversation:

Renata -
I'm going to temporarily overlook your rudeness because you raised some good questions.

First: I did not learn American history in Romania; I learned it in American colleges, from PBS and the History Channel. These same resources are available to you should you ever choose to tap into them.

Second: interesting point you make about the Mexican American war. "Victors get the spoils" - indeed, hence the invasion of Iraq. Stealing land and natural resources seems to be an American obsession. Inventing thin veils of pretexes to go in and grab what it wants seems to be the modus operandi. America, throughout its history, has held up its "God given" right to grab what did not belong to it - a practice clearly at odds with its beautiful Constitution.

Third: the reasons why people come to America is a favorite topic of mine. I have ruminated it for years. I have come up with some conclusions though my theory is not complete. The main reason is propaganda. Since its inception, the US has lured people over because, at first, it needed a population aligned with the "party line" and hostile to the native population, and nowadays it needs to keep freshening its economy up, and it needs consumers. Every immigrant family that comes here shortly goes into at least a quarter of a million dollars debt (house, cars, school for kids, credit cards, consumer goods). You couldn't ask for better customers than new immigrants. The vast amount of Americans (not all, the vast amount), are suspicious of anything foreign, don't speak a foreign language, don't watch foreign movies or listen to foreign music, and bristle with superiority when they hear an accent. Why on earth would a population like that wish for new immigrants? The answer - it's a survival strategy, a clever economic strategy to always be replenishing the bottom of the food chain with hungry, skilled, working people who want to move up in the world. This "Golden Mountain" propaganda machine burns into people's minds across the globe and always looms as a possibility when things are not going well in their home country. Once here, gratitude and desire for assimilation are the "proper" immigrant responses. Criticism is a no-no, a sign of a weak personality, of maladaptive psychology.

The social pressure is enormous. This is why you will have emigrants who live the most miserable, lonely, debt-ridden lives hanging the American flag out every 4th of July and voting Republican as if their life depended on it. "If I can't be like them, at least I should pretend really hard." The day to day life of an immigrant is like lady Diana's when she married her fantasy prince Charles - miserable and confusing, deeply at odds with expectations.

Well, I am sure I gave you yet another good laugh. I doubt you have ever sat down and had a conversation with someone who held my views before. I, however, have been surrounded by your kind for years and know what to expect. You want me to support Bush in Iraq and support him as he abandons citizens in New Orleans and support him as he militarizes the country and becomes dictator. No thanks, I am not in grateful, maleable immigrant mode. I have a mind of my own and I can see clearly that things are wrong and (gasp!) I will say it to your (virtual) face.
Queer Conservative -

Renata, You tilt at windmills better than Don Quixote himself.

"I think they [nation states] work however people want them to work, if they have the power to affect them. If enough people are disgruntled, things change, regardless of how much you despise the state of being disgruntled."

I'm not entirely sure I understand the point you're trying to make in that statement. I think it means that in a democracy the people have a voice, in which case, I agree.

"Your statements about your family being hard working are veiled insults in my direction, I suppose. They are also very cheap arguments; you, the hard working capitalist are going to teach me, the lazy socialist, a thing or two about the meaning of work. It's a bit amusing. I've heard this type of rant before, where people only work hard in America."

PW didn't say no one else works hard. He said that hard work can bring reward in the capitalist system. It is fraught with great risk and you are quite likely to end up knocked on your ass wondering what the hell happened! But for those willing to take the risks, willing to start over from scratch if necessary, the opportunity and the rewards can be astounding. Yes, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, and Oprah Winfrey are examples of the exceptional but rare mega-successful entrepreneur. But they have one thing in common, what they have wasn’t handed to them. Most of those who are successful under the capitalist system don’t even come close to such wild triumph. But I guarantee you that there are many, many people like me and PW in this country. People who work hard and are able to enjoy a place at the table in a free and capitalist society. We don’t always live in penthouses or mansions and have filet mignon and champagne for dinner, but we are proud of what we have earned and eager to work hard for more. It is very much like gambling. The more you put down on the table, the more you might win, and maybe, just maybe, you might end up rubbing elbows with Oprah one day. Of course you could roll "snake-eyes" too, and end up scrubbing her toilets for minimum wage. That's called life.

In the socialist system one does have more assurance that you will have some sort of job paying a basic wage, you’ll be able to afford the basic necessities, and have access to basic healthcare. Even though the quality and availability of “the basics” may not always be to your liking, you at least know you’ll have something. Unfortunately, the more “assurance” you allow the state to give you, the less opportunity there will be available to you. Some people are willing to make that trade. They are willing to live under a socialized system that decreases the risks faced by those in a more free flowing economy in exchange for stability. I am not one of them. Nor do I think you’ll find many others among your fellow Americans willing to trade opportunity for mediocrity.

You’ll also find that Americans appreciate stoicism and honest dissent, but we and disdain grousing and self-pity. For those who wish to come to America and pursue it's opportunity, I’ll give the same advice that the character Q gave Captain Picard in the Star Trek episode “Q Who?”: "If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you had better go back home and crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here! It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it's not for the timid."

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