Friday, January 27, 2023

Conservatism's greatest blunder

What youth associate with Capitalism, c. 2023
Was confusing the defense of corporate interests with defending capitalism.  

Back in the 1990s, when I was still in seminary, our oldest son was born.  At that time insurance companies were making news by cutting back on the days they would cover for new mothers.  By the time our oldest came along, it was dropping to a single day - 24 hours from the moment of birth - and then out you go. 

Now, if you've had a kiddo, you know that it takes more than a couple days in some cases for new moms to be ready to move out, or to make sure kids are altogether healthy.  In our case, he was born around 11 AM.  By the next day, he was supposed to be discharged.  The nurses knew neither he nor my wife were ready, though there was no 'smoking gun' problem to cite. They fudged things so she didn't have to leave until noon (and then dragged their feet about another hour getting things ready), so we didn't actually leave until about 1 PM.

That night, fluid developed in our son's throat that caused him to choke and stop breathing.  Fortunately my mother-in-law was staying with us.  As grandmothers are what I call 'pro-parents', she swung into action and was able to get him to cough it out and breath again.  Had she not been there, these two young and stupid parents likely would have been burying a first child. 

By the pediatrician's admission, this would have been avoided with an extra day or two of observation at the hospital.  Because of that, I became a staunch supporter of making insurance companies stop the madness.  I openly supported then President Clinton when he signed in the New Borns and Mothers' Health Protection Act of 1996. That act required insurance companies and hospitals to keep new mothers and newborns in the hospital for at least two days (48 hours).  Though I had several colleagues disagree with me and his legislation because free market and corporate liberty, I maintained something had to be done.  After all, it was obvious that insurance companies were happy to let come what may where kids' survival was concerned.

In subsequent years I had more than one colleague or acquaintance debate me on this (and other similar stances).  In almost every case the argument centered on some 'it's the government's fault, or this or that historical development's fault', but free market!  To which I would say it matters not, fix the cause eventually, but right now things have to be done to keep people from dying.  I especially enjoyed it when colleagues would explain to me that women were having babies for ages before our modern hospitals  (so obviously you don't have to have a hospital) - while deftly ignoring the cataclysmic infant mortality rate accompanying that fact.

The problem was that by the 90s, many conservatives decided that a company doing stuff and things for the bottom line, no matter what, was the deal breaker; the debate stopper.  That was it.  There is no moral compulsion for insurance companies, like any companies, to do anything other than what it takes to make gobs of money.  Never turn to the Government.  Perhaps consumer pressure in a better world.  But first and foremost it was that precious bottom line that was the Holy Grail.  No matter what insurance, or other companies, did, it was that bottom line that mattered.  The fault of anyone and anything might be true, but it always came down to defending corporate interests at all costs. 

That also included the clear and obvious development in the market we've seen in recent years of 'how to give less for more.'  Whether less includes shafting employees, bilking consumers, providing slipshod quality or diminishing quantity for ever higher prices - it was always defended under the principle that a corporation has got to corporation, and that's the important thing. 

If pressed, I would be assured that market forces would save the day.  Eventually those market froces will rise up and smack the corporate interests around and force them into a world where providing  the most for the least and encouraging competition and quality would once again rule the day. As if the global economic context of the market in the age of Lady GaGa was no different than the global context of Tommy Dorsey. 

Of course that didn't happen.  I see more and more conservatives starting to wake up to the realization that corporations have finally learned that countries based on democracy, freedom and equality, as well as civilizations based on loving God and your neighbor as yourself, are no longer needed for that magical bottom line.  Those conservatives may still try some 'it must be the government's fault' appeal. Others might hyphenate the situation.  That is, add something like 'crony' to 'capitalism' to explain what happened.  But more are starting to wake up and smell the frozen coffee.

What happened is pretty simple, and pretty historical, IMHO.  Capitalism arose at a time when multiple other developments kept it in check.  For the longest time, those with the money and power decided it was in their best interests to support and defend and advance such freedom and Golden Rule thinking, along with a robust free market, since that was where the money was.

Today that's no longer the case.  With China, you have 1.4 billion customers.  And a brutal Communist totalitarian regime that has learned it can set its lofty communist principles aside in order to court vast corporate interests, and ensure those interests they have little to fear but an increased bank account when doing business in China.  Likewise, in more than one part of the Islamic world, traditionally conservative states are learning to loosen up a bit - at least for those wealthy and powerful.  We're talking billions of potential costumers here.  What is America, with its paltry 330 million population, next to that? 

In fact, not only are those lofty old Western principles no longer that big of a deal, but increasingly they could be seen as an obstacle.  After all, if you're making bank on countries that routinely oppress, discriminate, marginalize and outright persecute swaths of their population, it's tough to do if you're singing the praises of good old Western democracy and values.  But let people believe that the West is as bad, if not worse, than any other place in the galaxy, and you're free to do as you please.  After all, what right does a slave owning, genocidal racist nation have to complain about doing business in China, huh?  Huh?  

Despite all this, I still see conservatives beholden to the unchecked support of any corporate decision because of course they do.  Last year I caught a radio program interviewing some fellow who wrote a book about the harm being done in the name of transgender ideology.  Apparently his book was banned by Amazon.  His conclusion?  He wasn't happy, but he would gladly defend Amazon's right to ban his own book.  A book that could, by his own admission, help save young people from suffering under the crazy.  He did this because free market and corporate interests you know.  There's saving youth from suffering, but then there is the bottom line. 

There's a time when an unwillingness to see the writing on the wall ceases to be conservatism and becomes foolishness.  I'd say those conservatives continuing to support the goals and agendas of the marketplace today without hesitation, given the marketplace's growing war against that which conservatives are supposed to value, might just be getting close to the second observation.  Or, what they meant by conservative was a world of difference than my understanding of the term in the first place. 

Yes, I've actually seen these fictional characters defended over the years in the name of Capitalism

Long and short summary:  Capitalism should ever have been the means to an end, and not the end itself.  Having forgotten that, and having allowed the market to become the antithesis of the market, has allowed young people to see Capitalism not as conservatives insist it once was, but to see it for what it has become.  And that's something conservatives had best see soon, or they'll loose both bathwater and baby where the economy and society are concerned. 


  1. Charlie Grand could not be reached for comment.

    As I wanted to post on your new year post, half the time it seems like the arguments are over what you're trying to say rather than anything you're actually saying. By this point I've grown too old and tired to care any more.

    1. Not sure what that means. Basically the summary: defending corporations and corporate executives is not, nor was it ever, the same thing as defending capitalism. I fear conservatives have learned it at our own peril. This is not call to embrace socialism. This is to start calling out corporations when they do the wrong thing because not doing so has led to too many youth thinking capitalism is, in fact, Gordon Gekko. And that's the last thing we want.

    2. Ah, I get what you were saying. Heh. Touché. :)

    3. yeah, some of that

      Some of it is also just exhaustion. "defending" capitalism in these cases feels like defending God against an atheist saying, "well if He's so good and loving, why isn't God here tying my shoes right now?" (yes I am exaggerating but only barely)

      Know what I mean? The terms and framing of the debate get set by the worst actors against capitalism it just becomes so tiresome trying to properly set everything. Like people just cry, "if capitalism is so great, where's our utopia?" It never promised utopia, just that you'd have food. And some shelter.

      I like the phrase "capitalism is to greed as marriage is to lust" - because it both conveys how some things are designed to properly channel our worse instincts, but also because just as we should understand that marriage is best doesn't mean every marriage is perfect and there's never any problems - capitalism is going to be the same way. We don't point to some abuses or bad marriages and declare the whole institution has to be junked and conservatives made a mistake defending it do we? There will always be room for people to be better.

  2. (Tom New Poster)
    After the 1990s we saw the wreck and mass murder created by socialist economies and there was a retreat from government control. Capitalism is an engine and powerful engines need governors and regulators so they do what they're designed for. What capitalism needs is ethical regulation; but what too often happens when government intervenes is political regulation. In that environment compelling Amazon to carry a book challenging gender reassignment could get twisted by state regulation to require (say) Ignatius Press to print one defending it. What we really want is not a new rule, but a different set of social attitudes.
    We also need to heed Teddy Roosevelt's wise observations concerning trusts: that capitalism is very adaptive and a set of regulations satisfactory in one era may not work in another, and that to get certain goods we may have to tolerate (in law) certain evils.

    1. I'm the last to say our hope is in the government. My point was really from that fellow on the radio. That was last year, but it's been buzzing around in my mind since - the whole 'my book can save young people - but if a corporation wants to ban it, the last thing I want to do is suggest it shouldn't do whatever it wants.' And as it becomes clear that some of the biggest enemies of Capitalism are now those same corporations, I just think it's OK for conservatives to call out corporate leadership when it does the wrong thing. As you said, ethical regulations, not ethical blank check where the profit margins are concerned.

  3. Chesterton used to call Big Business and Big Government “Hudge and Gudge”. And would say the problem with modern capitalism is that there were too few capitalists. He’s right of course, but he knew what economic activity should be at the service of: the family. Too many “conservatives” have compromised on divorce and all things sexual revolution they’re defending the means to an ambiguous end, because they don’t even know anymore what they’re trying to “conserve” it seems.

    1. That is another issue, the idea of just what is a conservative. Some conservatives are not what others would call conservative. Hence divorce or the general sex and drugs culture. But even among conservatives, the tendency to circle the wagons around the executive agenda no matter the agenda. As I've said elsewhere, this doesn't mean we call in the government and hie to the regulations. But it does say call out corporations when they advance evils or just plain counterproductive strategies and let the world know that is not what capitalism is, or should be, all about.

  4. Oh dear. I'm afraid, Mr. Griffey, you've presented a prime example of part of the problem.
    On one hand, you're disgusted by defending capitalism by defending corporate interest; on the other hand, you chastise a conservative who wouldn't bash a company which banned his book. Incredible though it may seem, ...these two ideas directly contradict each other.
    Corporate interest doesn't solely define capitalism in theory. In practice, it does. Most of us haven't started our own businesses; we work for one or another corporation. In effect, we all live our daily lives by corporate concern. Limiting what a corporation may only earn--or keep--inherently limits jobs which people might hold. ..If your son and his wife succeed, if the market they serve grows, they might ultimately incorporate.
    ..Speaking of which, they made decisions about materials they sell. If someone--say the ACLU--demands they sell or order materials with questionable morals, ..they'll have some very difficult choices. If threatened with a lawsuit, ...there will be serious financial consequences either way.
    I suspect that conservative knew of these concerns. He may have as much concern for encouraging censorship--or demanding greater exposure against someone's intentions--as he does sales. He likely has at least two channels, possibly more, by which to sell. He may then consider it possible to succeed, even with that vendor refusing to help.
    In all these concerns, someone must decide where to draw the line. Do we do it more conservatively or more progressively?
    I have the impression you've sought a moderate line. I think these times have rapidly shrunk the space where moderate voices can stand.
    I could wish We, the People, had much greater concern for (Catholic understanding of) common good. Far too many people consider that part of the problem. Thus we wind up with conflicts for which solutions applied work only marginally. Compromise requires surrendering parts of principles, sometimes critical parts.

    1. I don't disagree with your points. I just don't think we need to run to the government or the ACLU when a corporation does the wicked, or the counterproductive, thing. Simply calling them out and not defending them under the 'if it works for the bottom line, it ultimately works' reasoning would work. The problem with the book banned, he wasn't just saying this is a neat book please buy it. He was promoting it as a book we need to read to save our youth from the madness and the inevitable suffering the transgender movement is visiting on them. And yet he would let that suffering continue rather than just call out Amazon. He didn't have to say 'hey, we need the government here.' A simple 'Amazon shows what doing evil for the bottom line is all about, which is antithetical to what capitalists want' would suffice. Or some such. Same with the modern 'how to give less for more' principle. The last thing I want is socialism or government overreach. But it's not hard to see that by not only standing aside, but openly defending corporations no matter what they did under the banner of 'capitalism or bust', we're getting dangerously close to what sane people should never want. And in some ways because of those very corporations that were so defended.

    2. It's always been perplexing to me how easily people will identify any number of government expenditures as "waste" but the foolish expenditures of millionaires or billionaires as morally justified. That those millionaires or billionaires might have been able to afford their umpteenth multi-million dollar home by additional profits gained from allowing a certain percentage of day and a half old babies to die isn't even considered immoral. Government is the (often imperfect) voice of the people. To suggest that we should trust corporations and wealthy individuals to do a better job of policing themselves and their actions than a collective "voice of the people with power" is fool-hearted.

    3. (Tom New Poster)
      We need to remember that the regulator and the regulated, rich and poor, capitalist and worker are all fallible human beings tempted to avarice and envy. We are not and cannot be ruled in this lower world as if we were angels. Nobody is really safe with power over others, nobody will remain untempted by wealth. The best we can do is follow Mr. Burke's advice that our policies be "guided by principle, dictated by circumstance". In the name of liberty, we have to restrict the reach of government; in the name of equality we have to demand fair treatment of workers, fair wages and benefits, and put some cap (via antitrust laws, for example) on the size and independence of corporations. For the rest, we have to depend on the voluntary behavior and charity of the community.
      If you try to realize the Kingdom of God by the arm of the State, you will get a gulag. I defy anyone to demonstrate that Our Lord approves of gulags.


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