The Christian Left or the Torture Party

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The
only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to
do nothing. This statement, long attributed to Edmund Burke but
not found in his writings, doesn't explain how or why good men would
do nothing — I always assumed Burke was referring to complacency
and cowardice.

But
in addition, maybe some "good men" were too pure in their
principles to ally themselves with lesser beings, even when they
faced a common enemy. Other good men are fooled by lies – lies
of politicians, yes, but usually lies ingrained in their minds and
conscience in their youth. And even good men find it hard to break
with old loyalties, and are not immune by the sway of a charismatic
leader who says what they want to hear.

So,
thanks to American churches, public education, and the two-party
system, enough good men did nothing, and John Kerry and George Bush
won the Presidential nominations. The result is that we are becoming
a nation that excuses torture.

The
Warfare/Police/Torture regime has got to go. It offends me not as
an American, but as a human being. If I wasn't born here and didn't
live here, I'd be as anti-American as are most people in the world.
It wasn't always this way, and it shouldn't have become this way,
but President Bush's Administration has made it so. Any possible
alliance to defeat this menace to America and the World is worth
pursuing. I mean, hey, alliances aren't marriages. They're not even
friendships. They're coalitions.

To
that end, there are some folks who might be useful allies. They
are kind of the "anti-libertarians," actually. Conservative
on moral issues, liberal on economic issues. Concerned about both
personal morality and the poor, in the sense that they believe the
State ought to do something about both. I'm talking, of course,
about the Christian Left, those who agree with Evangelicals
for Social Action
and Sojourners magazine. There are
more of them than many people realize.

I
believe they are wrong – disastrously wrong – on many
issues. But they are anti-war, anti-torture, anti-Bush. That's a
start. To associate with such people could either be seen as an
unacceptable compromise, or as an opportunity. What choice do we
have, but the latter?

The
Left is animated by three prevailing concerns:

  • equality/democracy:
    concern for the dignity of each individual, their equal rights
    in the commonwealth, and the integrity of the democratic process;
  • poverty:
    alleviation of the hardships facing the poor.
  • ecology:
    proper stewardship of the earth's resources.

Does
having these concerns necessarily make one a Marxist? A Jacobin?

I
don't think so. These concerns are valid. It is indeed unjust for
a person to face legal hurdles because of his birth status. It is
indeed unjust that the political process is rigged. It is indeed
unjust that those less-well-off are denied opportunities to better
themselves, and it is indeed valid that in a world of scarce resources,
they should not be wasted.

The
question is, how should our values be advanced? Will the Christian
Left give libertarians a hearing on these subjects? Are libertarians
willing to enter into constructive dialog on these matters?

Not
if Leftists hate markets more than they love the poor, and not if
libertarians call leftists "thieves" for desiring some
wealth redistribution. That is, common ground will never be found
if no one wants to look for it, if principled purity and animosity
motivate our behavior. But if we don't cooperate, the Torture Party
triumphs.

Libertarians
have the advantage of providing information and insights that others
haven't thought about before. We think of things in ways that others
don't. This should be an advantage as we build alliances against
the Torture Party.

Here
is an example, from Sojourners magazine, "Ford
vs. Wal-Mart, a Tale of Two Companies
," in which the authors
David Batstone and David Chandler contrast the wages of Wal-Mart's
employees with those of Henry Ford's employees 100 years ago:

"Wal-Mart’s
recipe for success, however, does depend as well on squeezing labor
costs. The majority of its hourly workers earn less than $8.50 an
hour, which means that a full-time sales clerk at Wal-Mart falls
under the official U.S. poverty level for a family of four."

Whereas,

"For
Ford, mass production went hand-in-hand with mass consumption. He
established a simple benchmark for worker compensation: His workers
should be able to buy the product they were making. Ford promised
a $5-a-day minimum wage for all his workers – twice the prevailing
automobile industry average.

Doing
so, Ford created a virtuous circle. Workers flocked to his factory
to apply for positions. If they managed to secure a coveted job,
then in time they too would be able to afford one of his cars. The
company flourished on these twin pillars – a desirable product
and a highly motivated employee base. By the time production of
the Model T ceased in 1927, Ford had sold more than 15 million cars
– half the world’s output."

The
argument is that Ford's policy encouraged upward mobility, whereas
Wal-Mart's policy is one of downward mobility. Wal-Mart's employees
shop at Wal-Mart because they can't afford to shop anywhere else.

I'm
not here to defend Wal-Mart, or to bash Henry Ford. William
Anderson explains
why Ford’s way of doing business back then
wasn’t all that different from Wal-Mart’s today. Rather, I’d like
to mention something that’s always taken for granted. Ford's employees
in 1914 were the best-paid in the industry — at $5 a day, twice
what other auto companies were paying. Today, at $8.50 an hour,
Wal-Mart's employees are allegedly underpaid. $5 a day in 1914 good,
$68 a day in 2005 bad.

Why?

In
1914 the year Ford initiated the $5 wage, the Federal Reserve Board
was just coming into existence. Money was hard — a “dollar” meant
that you were entitled to an ounce of silver. Government was small,
the national debt miniscule. Laborers didn't have to pay Social
Security or Medicare taxes, as they do now. Also, Ford's higher
wages were the result of his revolutionizing the factory process.
His workers could become more productive, and more Model T's could
be built at a lower cost of production despite the higher wages.
So he made the Model T affordable to not just his own workers, but
to many others as well.

Companies
try to find ways to mass-produce, to lower the cost of production
of each unit, so that more and more people can afford it and will
buy it. This isn't greed, this is efficiency. This is stewardship.

Governmental
policy has always been the cause of inflation. There has been no
other cause. A nation's currency, especially when it isn't backed
by a precious metal, is a reflection of the faith others have in
that nation's government and economy. But the inflation of the currency
is a tax on the nation's people. The dollar cheapens more and more
as the government spends more than it takes in. Even if inflation
is "under control" when compared to the 1970's, it is
still a regressive tax that punishes low-wage earners, like Wal-Mart's,
the most.

Prosperity
in the real sense is the story of goods and services becoming more
available to more and more people. Which means that the prices fall
when accounting for inflation.

And
this is something that must be discussed. Why isn't $5 a day considered
a good day's wages anymore? Why, nearly a century later, is $70
now considered insufficient? Shouldn't that scare all of us, on
both the Left and the Right?”

It
is easy to see how lower prices hurt smaller businessmen, smaller
competitors. They have higher overhead costs relative to what they
produce. But what is worse for the working poor, lower prices with
small government and miniscule taxes, or inflated prices, big government,
and high taxes?

I
mention this as an example of where libertarian thought may oppose
the Left's stated policies, but not necessarily their basic concerns.
Not all libertarians are "selfish" or "rugged individualists."
Many of us come to this ideology only because of our rational conclusions
of how economies and governments work.

Is
such a dialog possible? I don't know, but it can't hurt to try.
Does hard money, balanced budgets, limited government, and falling
prices hurt the poor more than fiat money, deficit spending, big
government, and rising prices? I think that's a fair question, and
the purpose of asking it is to open minds to different ways of looking
at economic problems.

The
difference between libertarians and the Left, particularly the Christian
Left, is not a matter of values, of ends, but of means. Let's hope
that enough common ground is reached so that we have enough power
to depose the Torture Party as quickly as possible.

January
12, 2005

James
Leroy Wilson [send him mail]
lives and works in Chicago and is a columnist for the Partial
Observer
. He also has a new blog, “Independent
Country
.”

James
Leroy Wilson Archives

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