Free Markets, Free People
In the online multiplayer game Final Fantasy, players must collaborate to get very far in the game. Individuals train up at the beginning by fighting weak mythical creatures, but taking on the powerful monsters they meet later requires teams with assigned roles.*
It’s all self-organizing; no one at the game maker assigns a player to a task. Players find roles they are good at, and team up with others who possess other skills.
Teams normally have an interesting role called a “tank”. This player has the capability to attract and hold a monster’s attention, absorb a tremendous amount of damage from the monster, and regenerate quickly from the damage. Other players use the distraction of the tank to attack the monster in various ways, and if the team does their job, eventually the monster succumbs to their combined efforts.
If you’re on a team with a tank, you don’t have to like the tank much. You just have to appreciate the tank’s capabilities. Your main objective is to subdue the monster.
In my mind, this maps very naturally to the role of Sarah Palin in bringing down the monster of collectivism.
OK, OK, this sounds like the kind of high-falutin’, silly comparison that people like Maureen Dowd use for a cheap column in the New York Times. But attend me: this kind of metaphor is going to work a lot better with someone in their twenties than something we old guys would naturally use from a 1960s TV show.
I came around to this comparison as a way of explaining my own opinions of Palin to the younger set that hangs around with my sons. It’s sometime hard for me to explain what I like about her, because I’m not overly impressed with Palin’s leadership potential or her deep thinking about the issues. I haven’t seen much evidence that she possesses leadership or deep thinking in any great quantity.**
I am impressed, though, with her intuition, her courage, and her resilience. She absolutely refuses to be intimidated by the usual post-modern, politically-correct leftist BS. She absorbs anything the self-righteous Olbermann types can throw at her, laughs it off, and “punches back twice as hard”, to follow the advice of a well-known leftist.
The constant, withering attacks from legacy media do cause some damage to her image, according to various surveys and polls. However, she has a core group that regards every such attack as proof that she’s right. These folks have been looking for someone of consequence to tell the left-leaning media to pi$$ up a rope for a long time. The fact that it’s a woman doing it just adds to the frission.
Of course, there’s a core group on the left that regards her as beneath contempt and laps up everything the legacy media hands out. They are joined by the pusillanimous establishment Republican types who still quiver in fear that the Washington Post might say something negative about them, and go into a fan-waving fainting spell when they see someone with enough self-confidence and guts to not give a whit what the lefties at the Post think.
Both groups attack her regularly. Amazingly, though, after the attacks die down and Palin gets back to her tweets and Facebook postings, the damage seems to dissipate. Her unfavorable numbers oscillate around, but the key is that they do oscillate; they don’t go negative and stay there. Plus, the more illogical and mean-spirited attacks sometimes have the opposite effect of damaging the attackers and helping Palin.
So my message to those on the right who are not especially enamored of Palin is this: you need her. She’s the tank on the team. The leftist monster must be slain.***
I’m not the only one thinking along these lines, of course. I first mentioned the tank comparison in a comment at Legal Insurrection last week, and William Jacobson seems to be on the same general page in his post yesterday. This is just my way of explaining why we need her, even if we don’t think she’s perfect.
I have no idea what her chances to become president are, and at this point it’s too early to care. She’s certainly not my top choice, but she comes in well ahead of Mitt “Plastic Fantastic” Romney. (Mike “Worst of Both Worlds” Huckabee isn’t even on the list; if the GOP is stupid enough to nominate him, they might as well prepare for a third party).
As long as she’s highlighting the dishonesty and mendacity of the left, the overall bias of the media, and the cowardice and privilege-protecting mewling of the establishment GOP, she has my support. It will take a team to do what has to be done, and we need a tank. She’s the best one we have right now.
(*) I’ve never playing Final Fantasy, but as the father of two teen boys, it’s a frequent topic of conversation around the house. Actual FF players, please forgive my no-doubt incomplete understanding of the game’s concepts.
(**) Not that these are necessary attributes to be elected president, based on some recent examples.
(***) For civility-obsessed idiots, that’s a metaphor.
Kevin Drum has a blog post up at MoJo in which he supports a claim by Tim Lee that American Liberalism “has incorporated libertarian critiques at a striking rate over the past few decades”. The claim is that is true especially in the area of economic policy. For instance:
Income tax rates are way down. Numerous industries have been deregulated. Most price controls have been abandoned. Competitive labor markets have steadily displaced top-down collective bargaining. Trade has been steadily liberalized.
I guess that can all be categorized as “it depends on your perspective”. While personal income taxes are down in comparison with where liberals would prefer them to be – especially for the rich – corporate taxes remain the highest in the free world. And, speaking of economics and libertarians, we at least understand who ends up paying corporate taxes – and it ain’t corporations.
This is major blind spot of the liberal side of the house. If they admit that corporate taxes are passed along to consumers, then their basis for taxing in such a regressive manner would be questioned. So they continue to pretend that by demanding higher and higher corporate taxes, they’re somehow calling for equity in income distribution – assuming government will take the money collected from corporations as taxes and parcel it out to those who need it most. And further assuming that’s a function of government.
Of course what they end up doing is having corporations take money from those who must have their products but can least afford the cost of the increase driven by the taxation. “Benevolent government” then takes the money, after it takes its cut, and passes it back to the “most deserving”, or the “most in need”. Corporations then, are a tax collection entity, not a tax paying entity.
What happens when corporate taxes are raised is it has an adverse effect on the corporation’s consumer base. If they get high enough, that base begins looking for less costly alternatives or quits buying altogether.
All that to set up this next Drum statement:
The problem is that a system that generates enormous income inequality also generates enormous power inequality — and if corporations and the rich are allowed to amass huge amounts of economic power, they’ll always use that power to keep their own tax rates low. It’s nearly impossible to create a high-tax/high-service state if your starting point is a near oligarchy where the rich control the levers of political power.
You could most likely spend all day on those two sentences. Completely left out, of course, is who is paying income taxes. What we all know is somewhere around 50% of us aren’t. So when we see discussions about taxes we have to keep that in mind. More importantly – and after all the talk of having much in common with libertarianism – check out what Drum’s ideal is: “a high-tax/high-service state”.
Obviously the libertarian camp would find nothing to agree with there.
Essentially Drum’s argument is that we, as a nation, have the right to demand such a state. But while the “corporations and rich” own the “levers of political power” we’ll never achieve it. Solution? Implied: take those levers away from them. Method? Well all of this has been a prelude to the real reason for the post:
I am, fundamentally, old fashioned about this stuff: I think of the world as largely a set of competing power centers. Economics matters, but power matters at least as much, and I think that students of political economy these days spend way too much time on the economy This explains, for example, why I regret the demise of private sector labor unions. It’s not because I don’t recognize their many pathologies, or even the fact that sometimes they stand in the way of economic efficiency. I’m all in favor of trying to regulate the worst aspects of this. But large corporations have their pathologies too, and those pathologies are far worse because there’s no longer any effective countervailing power to fight them. Unions used to provide that power. Today nobody does.
This is the common cry of the liberal today. The need for a “countervailing power” to fight the power of corporations – real or imagined. Weapon of choice? Unions. But the power that unions fight against has nothing to do with the supposed problem with corporations that Drum has outlined. Taxes. Name a single union that has, in any time in the past, rallied and protested to get their corporation’s taxes raised? They understand what such an increase could mean to labor. As for power, unions are more concerned with the internal power of a corporation as it relates to wages and benefits. It is only recently, with the addition of union PACs, that the union movement has begun to address corporate political power.
And if I had to guess, that’s what Drum secretly laments. As private sector unions decline, so does any “countervailing” political power he thinks unions could wield. Of course, it doesn’t help when they act like this . Unions are and have been the liberal left’s power center in their war against corporations for centuries. If you don’t believe that, you just need to review recent elections and their pattern of donations:
The UAW has considerable clout in the Democratic party. In the 2010 election cycle, the union spent $10.1 million through its political action committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That was down from $13.1 million in the 2008 election.
The center said that 100 percent of the union’s 2010 federal donations — $1.4 million — went to Democrats. The funds come from voluntary contributions by members and retirees.
That’s the real impact of the “demise of private unions”. It is also why those like Drum support any effort that makes organizing easier for unions today.
So when Tim Lee writes that "Competitive labor markets have steadily displaced top-down collective bargaining," I just have to shake my head. Competitive for whom? For the upper middle class, labor markets are fairly competitive, but then, they always have been. They never needed collective bargaining to begin with. For everyone else, though, employers have been steadily gaining at their expense for decades. Your average middle class worker has very little real bargaining power anymore, and this isn’t due to chance or to fundamental changes in the economy. (You can organize the service sector just as effectively as the manufacturing sector as long as the law gives you the power to organize effectively in the first place.) Rather, it’s due to a long series of deliberate policy choices that we’ve made over the past 40 years.
But here’s the bottom line: if there were indeed a crying need for unionization felt by the “average middle class worker”, the ability to join a union (or form one) still exists. The problem is, it’s mostly fair and thus doesn’t favor the union as previous organizing laws did. However, if the organizing drive meets the criteria outlined in labor law,bingo, a union is born and members are able to cash in on the supposed benefits of such a relationship.
The problem, however, is fewer and fewer people apparently see any advantage in such a relationship anymore, if declining membership is any indication. Like anything else in the world, the consumer of a product has to convince themselves that the product’s benefit justifies its price. It seems that is no longer the case when it comes to private unions. Drum prefers to blame the demise on “policy”. I see it as the consumer saying, “no thanks” after the price/benefit comparison is made. The fact is policy or law doesn’t prohibit the formation of unions. Only votes do. And for quite some time, the votes – of those they would unionize – haven’t favored private union organizers.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that corporations and the rich know this perfectly well, even if lots of liberals have forgotten it. They know exactly what the biggest threat to their wealth is, and it’s not high tax rates. This is why the steady erosion of labor rights has been, by far, their single biggest obsession since the end of World War II. Not taxes, unions. If, right now, you were to offer corporations and the rich a choice between (a) passage of EFCA or (b) a return to Clinton-era tax rates on high incomes, they wouldn’t even blink. If you put a gun to their head and they had to choose between one or the other, they’d pay the higher taxes without a peep. That’s because, on the level of raw power, they know how the world works.
Of course he’s right, but not necessarily for the reasons he believes. Unions have grown into an impediment. A costly impediment to competitiveness. Whether anyone likes to admit it or not, labor is a commodity. Despite the emotional arguments of the left concerning labor and “real people”, people who want to work aren’t owed a job or a certain level of compensation. They have to be worth it to earn it.
So yes, corporations are more concerned about unions than taxes, at least to the point that passing along increased taxes starts costing them customers. Then they pay more attention to taxes. And if taxes do start to cost them customers? Where is the easiest commodity for a corporation to cut in order to maintain a competitive price as it collects the increased taxes? Yes – labor.
Without apparently realizing, the liberal left’s call for increasing corporate taxes dramatically for their “high tax/high services” state is a call for more unemployment. Unions would attempt thwart the ability for corporations to adjust headcount to remain competitive. Result? The US steel industry redux.
Is that really what the liberal left wants? I can pretty much guarantee it isn’t what any libertarian would want. But perhaps it is the fact they don’t even realize how it all works (and what they’re really wishing for) that’s the most dangerous aspect of all of this.