This is a belated, and long-percolated response to a blog post by my friend Ryan Dowell Baum. I am going to focus my discussion on one particular point that Ryan makes in his post:
"The problem with liberal politics is that it incorrectly assumes that by voting to raise taxes and expand social programs, the American people are legitimately and voluntarily offering up their government’s money to provide for the needs of others. The flaw in this thinking is that it forgets that government has no money of its own, because government does not produce wealth. It only takes, by force, from those who do (or borrows from other governments, who take, by force, from those who do). And in the US, the government disproportionately takes from the rich. So when middle-class Americans vote to raise taxes to serve the poor, it is not primarily their money, or their government’s, that they are voluntarily offering up. They are manipulating the state into taking other (wealthier) people’s money against their will, under threat of imprisonment, and giving it to less wealthy people. This, it seems to me, is violence."
What I'm about to say is probably too radical for most people, Ryan included. And that's fine - I don't mind occupying the "lunatic fringe" for this. I can't begin to express how deeply core this philosophy is to me. For all of my life, I have had a deep sense that the way things were arranged in our capitalist society were very wrong. As a child of relative privilege, this sense did not come from a feeling of having been deprived in comparison to others as I grew up. I'm not sure where my sense of equality comes from, exactly - it is so inherent in my being. Perhaps it comes a bit from my parents - but definitely not completely. Perhaps it comes from my reading of the Bible, both as a child and as an adult - but it's not that either, since I do not take the Bible literally in any way, and I wouldn't even say at this point that it is the major source of my moral compass. But I could indeed argue that this is a philosophy that Jesus would likely agree with. Anyway, maybe it is just that this is core to the being whose soul inhabits this body. Who knows.
My philosophy is that all of creation, and in particular for us on Earth, all of the energy of our star, and all of the resources that come from that energy, is no ones to own or control. No one on this planet - not even any one species - has the right to own or control any part of creation. That is my starting point, and as you can imagine, that has pretty big implications for how far off we are from that ideal.
This planet does not have infinite resources. Only a tiny fraction of the energy of our star makes it to our planet. There are reserves of that energy stored underneath the ground in the form of the decomposed remains of plant life millions of years in our past. There are minerals of varied sorts under the Earth that we use. All of these are finite.
Wealth is basically the accumulation of those resources by individuals or groups of individuals. And that accumulation is always at the expense of others, because the fact of these finite resources means that economics - the use and distribution of those resources - is a zero-sum game. The idea of constant and infinite economic growth is false.
Sometimes, that wealth is at the expense of future beings - like our profligate use of fossil fuels (for which I am guilty). But often, that wealth is at the expense of current humans or other beings. I would argue anyone who has spent their life accumulating massive wealth has done it in a way that created and/or accentuated the present or future suffering of others - whether it be exploiting resources such as Coltan, or employing people at non-living wages, or allowing products to be made with slave or child labor. And many people (including many individuals in industrialized countries) have lived their lives in ways that create or accentuate the suffering of others in other parts of the world, or in the future. This is the inherent violence of wealth.
In order for capitalism to work, labor costs must remain relativey low. The two ways that happens is that 1) jobs get moved to regions with lower wages, and 2) there must be some level of unemployment, so that there are people who are willing to work for lower wages just so that they can survive. Capitalism requires growth, and that growth has largely come from the use of fossil fuels, as well as other finite resources of the Earth. This is the inherent violence of capitalism.
In our country, we have tried to mitigate this to some extent by asking those who are more wealthy to pay for programs for those who are either unable to work because of age, health (physical or mental), unemployment, or who, for reasons rarely of their own making, are caught in cycles of poverty. To call this policy violence completely ignores the violence of wealth creation.
We are in deep shit. The United States and the industrialized world is in economic deep shit that it won't get out of because we have hit our resource limits. The planet is in environmental deep shit. And we haven't woken up to the fact that economic systems that revolve around the accumulation of wealth are the culprits. (By the way, most forms of communism that have existed so far, which are simply systems of state-sponsored wealth accumulation, are just as problematic, and are just as inherently violent.)