This is What Capitalist Conservatism Really Means

Most of the current day conservative effort has been devoted to preserving and widening the divide between rich and poor. Edmund Burke, the 18th century Irish-English statesman, passionately defended the gradual approach to change, and spoke to preserve old institutions we have “sentimental attachments” to, such as the system of inherited titles and privilege. Burke was, in my opinion, a Sophist, dedicated to fine words that didn’t mean what he claimed they did. He was deaf to the plight of most of the English. Why wouldn’t the landed gentry be “fond” of the way things were? Every advantage accrued to them. The poor had no “sentimental attachment” to the worst inequality in English history, nor do our poor have”sentimental attachment” to minimum wage.

This hardly differs from the capitalist conservative position in the 21st century. While the fortunes of the very richest have multiplied over the past half century, the wealth of everyone else has not changed, or has worsened. It’s the Gilded Age again. While rich Americans defend (are “fond of”) the status quo because it makes them more and more rich, citizens at the other end of the economic scale have fought a losing battle for half a century. As in Burke’s time, the conservative rich literally own the legal apparatus of the country, which they manipulate to create an inequality they can be “sentimentally attached” to.

The poor have fought a losing battle for half a century.

Capitalist Republicans are as tone deaf as 18th century English lords. “He who never was hungered may argue finely on the subjection of his appetite; and he who never was distressed may harangue as beautifully on the power of principle. But poverty, like grief, has an incurable deafness, which never hears; the oration loses all its edge, and ‘to be or not to be’ becomes the only question.” These thundering words are those of Thomas Paine, arguing for a living wage for tax collectors in England, shortly before he moved to America to inspire the American Revolution.

How very similar was the haughty attitude of the upper class English statesmen to present day super-rich Americans, neither of whom ever faced the slightest deprivation. But in our case, they are not only indifferent to poverty, but belittle those whose lives they harrangue, besieged by costs they can’t pay for with wages purposely kept inadequate, with critical services like medical care, education, and a reasonable retirement always slightly out of reach.

Rich capitalist conservatives
are not only indifferent to poverty,
but belittle the poor.

Their claim that the poor are the cause of their own poverty is ludicrous, pure racism. By The Poor, they mean African-Americans, just as they have meant every day since Emancipation 150 years ago. Republican capitalist racism has become increasingly ill-disguised of late, with public figures proclaiming that various peoples with darker skin are inferior to European immigrants of the past, meaning the pale English. Ironically, the same kinds of words were used to describe those earlier waves of European immigrants, from Ireland, Italy, and elsewhere: dark, swarthy, stupid, lazy, dishonest.

As Paul Krugman has said on numerous occasions, the claim of rich capitalists that their own great wealth brings prosperity to all has never once borne fruit. One has only to look at the financial messes wrought by Governors Brownback in Kansas or Walker in Wisconsin to see the results of tax cuts for the rich and loss of services for everyone else. Their claim that tax cuts for the rich will create prosperity is, as Paul Rosenberg said in a Salon article, “at war with basic math”.

The claim of rich capitalists
that their own great wealth
brings prosperity to all
has never once borne fruit.

But no matter how many times it fails to deliver, they continue to espouse this discredited ideology, then have the audacity to claim that the poor have no one to blame for their worsening poverty but themselves. They oppose improvements in minimum wage, worth half because of inflation, oppose national health care, and support every step that enriches those who have no need for more money.

If you cannot afford private capitalist health insurance—which costs half the pay of many full time workers—a single serious injury or illness can easily bankrupt your entire family, cause you to lose everything you own, and kill the educational future of your children. Yet capitalist Republicans have steadfastly opposed the national insurance that protects every citizen in every advanced nation except ours at half our cost, and is supported by more than 80% of Americans. The stopgap Affordable Care Act has been a godsend, providing health care insurance to some 15 million who never before had it, yet repeal has been a central goal of Republicans ever since it was enacted. The House has voted to repeal the ACA 56 times, every time falsely claiming it to be a financial disaster. A recent GAO report shows that the deficit would increase if it were repealed.

If you cannot afford
private capitalist health insurance
a single serious illness can easily
bankrupt your entire family.

Minimum wage is the pay of millions of people (median age 35) working for amorally stingy corporations, which also prevent their employees from working full time so they don’t have to provide benefits. Yet even full time minimum wage will not pay the rent on a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country. This condemns millions of families to the necessity for at least two jobs in the family.

The libertarian ideology says that government must eliminate every expense except “defense” (i.e., war-mongering for oil and other natural resources to rob) to avoid waste and save money, including Social Security and Medicare and anything else that helps real people. And we spend more on the military than the next ten nations combined. Meanwhile, every part of our national infrastructure is near collapse. Remember the bridge in Minneapolis that simply fell down during rush hour? There are lots of similar accidents waiting to happen, including on long outdated railroads, and some that have already happened.

Infrastructure is not an optional expense
that can simply be eliminated.

Infrastructure is not an optional expense that can simply be eliminated to honor belief in minimal government. Highways and bridges, railways and airports, communications and control operations, river channels and dams, crucially important places numbering in tens of thousands are in decrepit condition. The longer this continues, the more commerce will be negatively affected, and the more businesses will collapse. It has become a national security issue. We face the clear threat of economic losses that will affect rich and poor alike, and will last decades past the date we finally decide to do something about it.

All this is what capitalist conservatism really means.


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