Saturday, July 5, 2008

Spending my money to support causes I don't believe in

I'm reading "The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain," by George Lakoff. It fits in remarkably well with all the books I've been reading lately about brain research. I'll have more to write about this as I digest the book. (And I have to get it back -- it's due today, and others are waiting for it!)

But I've had a nagging thought that I wanted to capture. Lakoff frames American politics as a contest, at base, between the Strict Father model, and the Nurturant Parent. He calls the former conservative, and the latter progressive. There are also many people who are "biconceptual" -- whose views vary with the topic.

I guess that describes me. I refuse to let somebody else define my politics. Example: Suzanne read me an article yesterday over breakfast about an attempt to introduce a bill to forbid the use of union dues for politics. I found myself wondering: so, will there also be a bill preventing the private sector from spending money on lobbying? If I'm a member of a union, the union uses those dues for political action. If I buy a tank of gasoline, a significant chunk of that goes to the support of various political causes. Yet it's no more "voluntary" or informed than union support of political activity. Isn't this just a transparent attempt to muzzle unions, while retaining an advantage for business? But the core objection -- use of my money for causes I don't support -- is precisely the same.

As I've written before, I'm a believer in a strong public AND private sector. Both are necessary; neither can be defined in terms of the others; both serve essential purposes. Here's one distinguishing characteristic of the public sector: full disclosure by law. Public budgets. Public meetings. Accountability to the taxpayer. In the private sector, budgets may be hidden, meetings may be utterly secret, and accountability to the consumer a matter of protracted lawsuits (and met often by efforts to secure "tort reform" -- e.g. limits on corporate punishments).

To restate this again in the example above: when I spend a tax dollar for libraries, I know where the money goes, and why. The case is fully disclosed to the public, and decided by a vote of the community. I know there is little excess; the functioning of the institution I fund is transparent. When I fill a tank of gas each week (just one of which equals the proposed increase to my annual library tax bill), that money goes to support extravagant executive compensation, compromises the environment, and directly funds political maneuvering that has led to the occupation of foreign countries, the murder of children, and the torture of innocents. It's times like that that I have trouble defending the moral superiority of the private sector.

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