Sunday, June 3, 2012

Self-interest and identity

(This started as a response to a comment regarding yesterday's look at a carbon tax, but I decided to make a full post out of it)

Much of conservative/libertarian America holds up as its ideal a sort of John Galt type of independent entrepreneur.  If left free of government interference, the open market will reward smart, hardworking people with wealth and security.  In this worldview, every negative thing that happens is the result of politics and the government, and Washington is the only thing standing between themselves and their own personal prosperity.

For people with this mindset, voting for the Tea Party is not against their self-interest, as they view themselves as future members of the 1% if only bureaucrats would get out of their way.  Self-interest has not been abandoned by the Tea Party; the identity of Tea Partiers is inextricably linked with self-interest.  Tea Party -> Laissez-Faire Capitalism -> Self-interest.

A carbon tax utilizes the Right's fetish for property rights to drive home an environmental message.  When I pollute, I damage your standard of living by making you breath noxious fumes and make your kid more likely to have asthma.  You deserve to be compensated for that damage, just as you would deserve compensation if I wrecked your car or took your lunch money.


NWest said...

You've built up a very nice straw man.

However, the goal of libertarian/fiscal conservatives is not to "become one of the 1%". Most have no belief that they'll somehow magically just become wealthy because of a free market.

The goal is to increase total *aggregate* prosperity and the general standard of living by removing barriers for those few people who do get ahead from lifting up the rest of us with them.

Bill Gates became a billionare, but he inadvertently created jobs for thousands of software engineers making good upper middle class salaries of $60 - $90k per year.

The breakup of the AT&T government monopoly led to the cell phone & smartphone markets, with all sorts of opportunities for individuals to get ahead.

Voting for the Tea Party (before it was taken over by religious whackos) makes sense if you believe that when people get rich through capitalism, they do it by creating products that their fellow man buys, and creating jobs that their fellow man works in. They raise the standard of living for *all* through technological innovation and change. *Customer Service* is called that for a reason - if you don't satisfy your customer, they go somewhere else.

But say you don't have to satisfy your customer, since you've got a cushy deal where no competitor can enter the marketplace because the government has insisted on hundreds of regulations (which you can handle just fine since you are established). You even helped to write the regulations! Now the customers are no longer getting good service, and you're no longer innovating since profits are free! Witness the wonderful innovations in, say, the supply of electric power. 100 years later and the grid is virtually the same, falling apart!

Just one of many examples. Libertarians want free markets because they want companies to be responsive to customer preferences, not insulated from them by the warm cocoon of government.

magic legs said...

Yeah, I don't really buy it. 78% of all Tea Partiers are over the age of 35. Someone at that age is old enough see the horizon of their life's work. They should have a pretty good idea about where they're gonna end up, and they know what they're capable of.

On the other hand, you may have a similar but different point though, and that is the way Republicans use the culture of identity to create a kind of resentment in those who don't have very much. By setting up a world where certain rules are ubiquitous, like pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and more work equals more money, etc., they can create tension in the minds of even lower class people for other lower class people. "I've been working hard all my life, and I know that hard work should mean that I have more money, therefore, someone must be fing everything up with their laziness! Maybe Mexicans, or black people, or dirty hipsters." I think a lot of this kind of manipulation drives the racism and anti-immigration we see in lower class southern and midwestern tea partiers.