Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Bibi and the Power of Parable

Happened to catch Bibi Netanyahu on CNN this morning and he told a wonderful, revealing story about trying to explain the virtues of a "free market" capitalist economy to the Israeli people, who had grown up in a semi-socialist state. Of course, Jews have a reputation in America and Europe as shrewd businessmen, but here the Prime Minister of Israel was faced with a Jewish population isolated from the business world, or so he claimed.

His story concerned his first day of training in the Israeli paratroopers (thus reminding his audience of his military creds) and the captain lined up all the recruits facing him and he said, "We will do a race, but this race is going to be made more interesting. Look to your right. Lift the man to your right on your back."  Bibi is not a big man, and the man to his right was a third again his side. The next man was even smaller than Bibi and he had to heft a man twice his side and the next man was a huge guy and he lifted a small man on is back. Then the whistle blew. Bibi staggered forward, barely able to cross the finish line. The small man with the huge burden collapsed at the starting line but the big man with the small man on his back took off like a rocket and streaked across the finish line.

Now, I'm thinking, oh, I know where this is going: It says that some of us have a heavier burden than others, in life. Some are born into poverty, some into poverty and ignorance, while others are relatively advantaged, unburdened and they are likely to streak ahead of others, and likely these guys will believe they deserve their winning because they are so superior, the Donald Trumps.

But n I had forgotten Bibi is, at heart, a Republican. The burden turned out to be, you guessed it: the government and taxes. So the big man unburdened by a heavy tax load soars ahead, while the little guy, carrying big government on his back collapses. 

Of course, his audience, an affluent Republican American audience, loved it. Just unburden us from the government and we'll all roar ahead, unleash the animal energies of a free market economy by lowering taxes.

Nobody mentioned the experience in Kansas, where the governor made just that argument and cut income taxes and Kansas has been in trouble ever since, sinking beneath a sea of red ink, unable to provide even the most basic government services. No animal energies surfaced to save the day.  The economy in Kansas has plummeted into recession where its more heavily taxed neighbors have made steady recoveries. 

Like all the privileged, advantaged set, Bibi argues we'd all be just fine if it weren't for the burden of carrying the government on our backs, when the truth is just the opposite is true: When the government provides stimulus, as Paul Krugman keeps reminding us, everyone does better, including the rich who so decry government spending. 

And, of course, the bigger lie is the myth of "free market capitalist economy."  We have capitalist markets in America but we do not have anything close to a  "free market" as the government subsidies big farming, big oil, big coal and big every business. It's just the little guy who isn't subsidized and who is told he ought to be working harder and then, once he mobilizes his animal energies, he'll be as rich as Donald Trump.
Thomas Nast: The Real Burden 

The game is rigged, as Bernie Sanders has pointed out. Banks too big to fail can charge ahead full of animal energies, never fearing  a fall because they are too big to fail and they know it and the government will bail them out. That's not free markets. That's crony capitalism, which the Republican party has recently decided is a bad thing, and they decry this, all the while taking the money which flows from crony capitalism, all the way to the bank.

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