Today is Memorial Day and we are bombarded with Facebook posts that ask us to take time to honor the men and women who have served our country and to not passively and disingenuously dismiss Monday as being only instrumental in allowing for a three-day weekend and an excuse to drink in excess with social acceptance. I understand the sentiment of this notion, as we should not take for granted the origin and sentiment behind this holiday or, any holiday, for that matter — but, if we take notice of the sacrifice made by soldiers, then it would be respectful to take notice what they sacrificed for.
It could be argued that our soldiers have fought hard battles in pursuance of defending our freedom. But, this argument makes a bold assumption — that, namely, we had freedom to begin with. In the United States under the false authority of capitalism our freedom is — by design — multifaceted and layered. The role of government is to provide ‘negative economic freedom’ to ensure that people can revel in their ‘positive economic freedom’ — which means the role of government is to ensure ample ‘economic choice’ (negative economic freedom) so we can freely choose what we wish to buy in a free market from this choice (positive economic freedom).
The engineers of capitalism persist to argue that political freedom (the capacity to have ample political choice and the ability to freely choose therein) is the product of economic freedom. Secondly, they argue, civil freedom (the capacity to have ample civil choice and the ability to freely choose therein) is also the product of economic freedom. In other words, so they argue, the path to having many options (and the freedom to choose) in a political election and our ability to freely advocate civil rights (right to marry/love who we wish or right to redefine our identity without persecution) is conditioned by a free market that gives me ample options for dishwasher detergent. So they say.
So today when you goto the grocery store to buy stuff for your troop-honoring-hamburgers please be grateful for our freedom with this simple reminder:
Being blessed with the opportunity to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, is because of the abundance of mustard options for your hamburger.
That may seem or feel wrong, but let me tease it out a bit. Economic freedom is a simple, commensurable and quantitative means of allowing people to seek out whatever they want, granted they want to work hard for it. And, once you earn more economic freedom you can use said freedom — money — to buy political freedom, by making charitable campaign contributions. Moreover, you can use your political freedom to contribute to the candidate who represents/defends the civil freedoms and values you wish to see manifest in the world. Ergo, negative freedom by the government is the first domino push to all forms of freedom. This is the doxa that drives the GOP in their decisions to undo the ACA, deconstruct the EPA, deconstruct the department of education, undo medicare and many other social welfare programs. They feel the government is infringing on ones ability to radically actualize their positive economic freedom by using soft coercion to fix choices. Secondly, they feel using tax payer money (the haves) to give aid to people in need (the have-nots) is an act of coercion and an infringement of the freedom of the tax payers. So, in other words, the best way to ensure protection/advocation for civil rights and fair political elections is to knock 23 million people off of health insurance and raise the price of medical care to the elderly by ~600%. Is that what freedom looks like?
Now, it is the case that most of us get one vote in political elections. But is that really the case? Corporations strive for maximizing their returns and profits and if contributing to SUPER PAC’s did not render a return on investment (ROI), then they would not make them. In other words, if we ask the question does the financial contributions made by large corporations and wealthy individuals influence the outcome of elections and condition the actions of elected politicians — well, the simple fact that they do it, is evidence that it works; because somewhere there is an accountant doing cost-analysis on political contributions and makes appeals to management that it is in their financial interest to make these contributions. In this sense, the performative act of casting your vote is a one-vote-per-person, but the efficacy of voting influence is the product of your disposable income. In other words, we could say that all entities with a tax code — individuals and corporations — receive one-vote for every dollar of disposable income, to facilitate this equation: 1 unit of political influence = 1 vote. And considering that 49% of Americans do not earn enough to have disposable income (living paycheck, to paycheck), then it could be said that 49% of Americans have zero political influence, or zero political freedom.
So when the engineers of capitalism say, government enacted negative economic freedom facilities economic freedom of the individual and that, subsequently, engenders political/civil freedom, they mean quite literally that freedom has a cost and the ones who do not have the means to pay this cost, do not get to be free. So when the GOP argues for reducing regulations and government expenditures on social safety-nets as an act in the pursuance of freedom, they do not mean freedom for everybody. They strictly mean freedom for the people who have the means to buy their freedom and in practice this also happens to be the same people who have an abundance of disposable income (abundance of political influence). If the people with political freedom, use their political influence to elect politicians who use their political power to increase political freedom of their ‘influencers’, then it would be the case that every political cycle would be a step in shifting the influence into bigger concentrations of influential power within the wealthiest class of society.
The neoliberal argument to this, is the dictum that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’, but this assumes everybody owns a boat. I’d protest that 49% of Americans do not own a boat, but rather they are all laying on the shore cold and hungry, covering themselves with leaves and dirt for warmth — fighting the tumultuous and peril fact that on any-given-slumber they may be wholly consumed by the rising tide. Struggling for space as their back is pressed against another person who’d rather push them in the water to reap the booty of their demise than share this limited space. Is it of any surprise that a well-tanned master of manipulation was able to stand perched on the bow of a yacht with a megaphone and win an election after this trifle of a monologue?
Do you remember the good ol’ days? Do you remember a time when we all had boats — in fact, we had two boats, a garage and a pretty white fence? Do you remember? Do you remember a time before terrorism? Do you remember a time before all the our-sourcing and moving jobs overseas? Remember when America used to make things and we’d all be rewarded with boats and the glory of rising with the tide as one great nation? Do you remember when being a free American meant simply being a white male? Do you remember? If that is what you want, if that is what you need, then cast your vote for me…. actualize your freedom and vote to make america great again.
For many people — roughly 49% — this may sound great, surely. However, the contradiction lies in the fact that he is enabling feelings of child-like nostalgia to some pre-capitalism era and then claims he will restore us to the splendor of this epoch by reducing freedom-sucking government regulations and freedom-sucking government dependencies (social welfare). In other words, do you remember how better economic equality was before capitalism — well, if you vote for me, I will double-down on capitalism to bring about pre-capitalism glory. Ergo, bolder capitalism — so he argues — is the cure to the woes of capitalism.
Most people — I’d posit — accept both emotionally and intellectually that you can increase your freedom by being rich. However, that sentiment is conditioned by some assumption that there is a ‘base level’ of freedom that we all receive just by the sole fact of being American. Like its a game like Monopoly and we all begin with the same distribution of wealth and with a little bit of luck, hard-work and cleverness we can expand our freedom infinitely. However, if this does not work out we are guaranteed our 200 units of freedom every time we pass Go.
But, as it was implied by what I said earlier, there is no such thing as a base level of freedom. Under capitalism, freedom is directly correlated by ones ability to buy political influence. In fact, some use their political influence to advocate for tough-on-crime initiatives and to build more for-profit prison systems, because the over-populated shoreline — as people fight for social inclusion and scraps of sustenance — is very hard to gaze upon without guilt setting in, so we might as well hide them away beyond lock-and-key and then profit from their enslavement — because, that my friend, is freedom. So in this regard, if 49% of Americans have zero freedom, then surely we’d have to argue that the imprisoned caste has sub-zero freedom.
Is this American? And does this make America GREAT again? The founding fathers established this nation on the principles of negative civil freedom (bill of rights) and not principles of negative economic freedom. If economic freedom was the point and if they ventured to believe it conditioned all other freedom, then surely our bill of rights would be the foundations of contract law. This is the point when the why becomes more important than the what. The reason the framers of the constitution established our republic on the grounds of negative civil freedoms, is that they felt those freedoms conditioned society (and individuals) to be less susceptible to tyranny through oppressive rule.
So if the point of all this was transcending conditions of tyranny then shouldn’t we test our political and economic theories on the basis of does it condition tyranny? And before we can answer that, we have to take one-step back and ask what causes tyranny? The engineers of capitalism — in visceral response to the rises in totalitarianism in the first half of the 20th century — believed that government needed to be limited, because concentrations of power lead to tyranny. Granted, the implication is that concentrations of government power lead to tyranny because of the paradoxical problem that the government, in some sense, is empowered to self-govern it’s own power and so if it is granted too much power, then it will use power to gain power and snow-ball into totalitarianism. However, so it should be stated, power is power. So for the engineers of capitalism the idea that all modes of power concentration lead to tyranny was not conceived as a possibility, nor as a problem.
But, as it has been shown, the process of capitalism is a process of slowly shifting freedom/influence/power into the hands of the very wealthy and this process creates a de facto concentration of power. Is this tyranny? It is upon the wisdom of the German philosopher Hannah Arendt that I shall conclude, as she prolifically stated that totalitarian states of the future will look nothing like totalitarian states of the past, in fact they will wear the mask of the opposition. In other words, she argued that the character of future totalitarian states will be states that vocally and categorically stand in opposition to tyranny and forcefully refute anything that is perceived as freedom-negating. It is a matter of both historical fact and logical inference to state that all forms of concentrated power lead to tyranny. And as we reflect upon the sacrifice that has been made by millions of young men and young women throughout our countries history, it would be of a grave disservice not to simultaneously reflect on what freedom means, what tyranny means and, more importantly, what does a more perfect union look like, and how do we get there.