The Fallacy of Individualism

Conservatives tend to think of non-essential government spending as a moral and technocratic failure. The Federal government’s stimulus measures are simply unconscionable because they are artificial expenditures of taxes, and not ‘how a family’ would operate on its own budget.

Here’s a news flash: National governments aren’t required to run on a balanced budget, and nor should they be. The national debt is such an overrated Republican rallying point. Our debt, somewhere in the 15 trillion area (almost entirely the cause of Republican war and tax policy), isn’t apocalyptic because our economy is massive: 8-10 trillion itself a year. Our deficit is falling at a rapid pace not seen since WWII, and our economy is growing at a impressively steady rate. What matters is that we have the ability to pay down our debt and maintain function, which both of those factors point to.

Pure Republican economic philosophy, despite its consistent shortcomings in state and national governments over the past century, still have diehard proponents because of the moral sentiment these people possess over wealth.

‘We can’t raise taxes to give public assistance or to build things! That will just discourage the hard working from investing, and it will encourage poor people to be lazy!’

‘We need to gouge government spending to unleash the free market!’

At the heart of those statements is conservative economic philosophy. Despite the evidence in support of more active governments, they would argue we simply shouldn’t tax and spend on anything non-essential because those who are poor are undeserving, and more importantly because the federal should be a tiny entity to get back to the market principles which in their minds will produce an economic boom. The minuscule redistribution of wealth the U.S. currently does is, to Republicans, a horrifying encroachment on individual liberty.

We are not, nor has our species ever been in the state of nature theorized by many philosophers.  Each of us is bound in the social contract that makes humanity far more successful than the imaginary isolated individual. We live in communities in which my income is your spending, and vice versa. Businesses are built by laborers that we collectively pay to train, are given markets by roads and treaties our governments made. Those same businesses are given protection by our patent laws and regulators, our police force and fire departments.

So enough of this nonsense about the self made man just trying to buck the government so that he can succeed. Our economy once thrived in an environment in which the wealthiest among us paid up to 90% in income tax and still made out just fine. We will never again live in a time in which the wealthy pay even 50% of their income in tax, nor our corporations even 30%. No wealth ever accumulated has been because of the sole efforts of one man on his own, and that wealth would have no value in isolation anyway.

Our anti-poverty and safety net expenditures are a stopgap prevention of societal decay in an economic system which has the tendency to produce vast inequalities beyond necessity. Look at any other advanced economy and you will find that greater egalitarianism still produces impressive growth while minimizing societal problems. Laissez faire, free market capitalism is a beast that produces terrible consequences for most of the world in the form of excessive greed and environmental damage. History shows us that. Liberalism is the force that reigns in the worst of this and tries to reform capitalism to a more tenable economic policy. This has been the core of our  government for the past century. Those who long for the Reagan years are those who would also prefer an 1850’s frontier economy in which the sheriff was the ultimate authority. They are dreamers who ignore the realities of the 21st century, and fantasize about the fallacious mythos of the individual that has never existed, and indeed has no place in our world, given the inarguable altruism we are capable of.

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