Feel the Bern: Part 3: Social Justice

Social Injustice & Inequality

The second video of the sociopolitical discourse between Killer Mike and Bernie Sanders kicks off with Bernie bemoaning the “outrage” that is the existence of homelessness in America. He is also rightfully upset over the employment status of the African American demographic. The growth of American incarceration is mentioned, as is outsourcing jobs to foreign countries, and tax evasion among the wealthy. He rails against the indifference of business owners towards the national debt, against the greed of the “people on top,” and against America choosing a wealth/poverty system over a equally-and-moderately prosperous system.

Killer Mike, for his part, professes a trust of most old people and criticizes the departure of the American steel industry. He lays this at the feet of the increasing selfishness and greed throughout the country and wonders why people vote against their own self-interest. The video ends in agreement on the dangers posed by creating monarchs of political families.

Homelessness: To Be Or Not To Be?

A major problem in American discourse on homelessness is the variance of definitions. Generally, when a typical American refers to someone as “homeless,” the implication is that they are chronically homeless, in the sense that they have been homeless for a period of years. It also typically implies that they are likely to remain homeless. The problem is that both these characteristics are a tiny, though not insignificant, minority.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR), approximately 1.59 million Americans were homeless at some point between October of 2009 and September of 2010. Let’s stop right there and note the accomplishment. The 2010 census revealed a US population of 308 million:

Homeless:   1590000
American: 308000000

Even assuming that all of the 2010 homeless were permanently homeless, that means the homeless population accounts for 0.5% of the US population. While we should certainly strive to eliminate this unfortunate phenomenon, a 99.5% success rate is pretty amazing, as I’m sure any grade-schooler expecting a report card would agree.

But that 0.5% can be considered exaggerated, because only 39.1% of that 1.59 million were homeless prior to October of 2009, bringing what might be termed the “homeless problem” down to 0.2%! I do not mean to dismiss the hardships the other 955K people endured, but while homelessness that ends in less than a year[1] is worth addressing, it is not all-important, especially in the face of the yearly million or so abortions and the specter of more US involvement in the Middle East. Nor does it necessitate a massive rethinking of the system.

In any case, the number of chronically (using a fairly liberal definition[2]) homeless individuals – that is, the definition most commonly assumed by typical Americans – was around 124K in 2010. It is worth mentioning how many of the homeless actually choose homelessness due to a gypsy-like love of roaming, a desire for near-total freedom, or even, yes, simple laziness. My parents once took a homeless woman off the streets for several months. They finally made the difficult decision to have her leave after she spent those months watching TV over the Internet in the room she virtually monopolized, all while doing nothing around the house save cleaning dishes on occasion. She did have some mitigating health issues, but the point is that she never exhibited a desire to earn her keep or even express gratitude in any tangible sense.

Hopefully, we can agree that the issue of homelessness is small enough to be considered even by the most ardent statist as falling under the purview of private charity and existing systems.

Black Employment

It is true that the employment situation among African Americans is disproportionately negative. However, it does not necessarily logically follow that this necessitates political action. Given that the United States has elected a black President and that many of the country’s leading executives and business owners are minorities, it is irrational to assume the unemployment issue is a result of systemic racism. And therefore, I find it very likely that it is cultural shifts – not political revolutions – that are required. The idolization of gangsters and the idea that economic success marks one as discredited or even someone who betrays or abandons one’s race must stop. I won’t be so arrogant as to outline goals and plans for the reduction of African American unemployment. There are many people more qualified and in touch with the community than either myself or Bernie Sanders. And many of them are saying the exact things I just wrote.

Wisdom of the Ancients

Killer Mike briefly breaks from politics to express his trust for most of the elderly. It might interest those of similar sentiments to know that the elderly are much more likely than youth to embrace the label of “conservative,” which when coupled with the idea that the elderly possess vast stores of wisdom gives rise to the saying that “a young conservative has no heart, but an old liberal has no brain.”

Steeling Economic Prosperity

Killer Mike cites the flight of the US steel industry as evidence of growing selfishness, completely ignoring the preceding unionization of the steel industry and accompanying rise in costs, the liberalization of China, and other relevant factors. This seems indicative of a common statist practice – ascribing malicious motives to the direct actors of a specific economic event rather than holistically considering all the build-up and convergence of circumstances that propels a system to such an act.

Similarly, Sanders lambastes U.S. business owners for moving jobs overseas, which creates several interesting questions. First, where is the intellectual integrity in demanding higher wages while simultaneously wishing to penalize outsourcing? Second, is Sanders implying that Americans deserve those jobs more than the Chinese or the Indians? If so, how can he claim that his ideology is motivated by a compassion for the poor or a desire for equality? If not, then why is outsourcing a morally negative practice?

The Good Old Days

Mike and Bernie seem in agreement that the United States is becoming more selfish, more greedy, and more self-absorbed. Putting aside the issue that this supposed trend coincides temporally with a rise in policies and legislation in line with Sanders’ plans (increases of government spending, increased welfare, increased taxes, increased regulation), I wish to examine this common failing amongst people of all walks of life and political persuasions. That is, a yearning for the Good Old Days and a belief that people from one time period are fundamentally different than those from some preceding time period. The Good Old Days of business owners supposedly caring more for their employees and being more selfless were also the Bad Old Days of lower standards-of-living, racist legislation, and massive warfare. I am not implying causal links between these things. I am merely attempting to remove the rose-colored glasses with which these two statists are viewing modern history.

What About the Deficit?

Continuing in a similar vein, Sanders attacks business owners for not caring about the national deficit. This is highly irrational and hypocritical. Irrational because, except in the context of voting, it is not truly a business owner’s responsibility to care for the national deficit. That is the responsibility of those who create it, i.e. the government, i.e. Senator Sanders. His attack heavily implies that he believes one should have concern for the deficit. That is an interesting opinion for a man who consistently advocates for increased government spending in almost every category. One may argue that he also endorses corresponding tax increases, but if the government has thus far been unable to balance what it has, it seems unwise to exacerbate the problem by continuously tithing more and more money into the abyss.

Greed

A consistent theme throughout the video is the greed of the rich and powerful. But Mike and Bernie seem to espouse a double standard on the definition of greed. According to the Sum Total of Human Knowledge, greed is composed of an

intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.

Selfish simply means to desire for oneself (without regard for or to the detriment of others). While the wealthy Sanders and successful Killer Mike may not be putting forth ideologies that are selfish from their perspective, it is obvious that they are appealing to the selfishness (and greed) of the voting public (among other – possibly more positive – things). And in this context of satisfying one’s own needs and wants by taxing the properties of others (and justifying it with accusations of excess and greed), we must add envy to the list as well. Sanders is building his campaign on voters’ desire for free healthcare, free food, free education, and free shelter. (That is, sanfreedoms.[3])

In light of this attack on selfishness and greed, it is incongruous that Killer Mike complains that many of the Sanders opposition seem to be voting against their own self-interest. One cannot maintain integrity by both attacking greed and appealing to it.

On a cliché note: Killer Mike and Bernie Sanders claim the country is selfish. Indeed it is, such is the nature of mankind. Free market economies are fueled by and dependent on this selfishness. The leftist ideals these two espouse are dependent on changing this aspect of human nature, of establishing a system fueled by that which we lack in sufficient quantities: selflessness.

Fallacy Time!

It is at this point that Bernie Sanders appeals to a major and all-too-common false dilemma. In his view, the world can be a world of haves and have-nots (the wealthy and the homeless) or a world where everyone is “doing pretty well.” It is inarguable that self-interest creates wealth (through mining, farming, and construction, among others). It is also evident that in the general sense, selflessness merely shares wealth (few have ever obtained or created jobs and goods solely for the purpose of providing for others). Therefore, a system that rewards selfishness will tend to increase in overall wealth, while a system that does not will tend to stay level at best, and will almost certainly decline.

The two options presented are not immediately obvious as a false dilemma until you add in the hidden qualifiers. That is, in Sanders’ view (as stated), the world can be a place of wealth disparity with a given quantity of wealth or a place of relative equality with that same quantity of wealth. In actuality there are several potential systems, and among them are wealth disparity with a world-leading quantity[4] of wealth and wealth equality with a much lesser quantity of wealth as evidenced by Denmark’s[5] $10,000-lower per-capita wealth.

To put it cliché terms, any rational individual would prefer a smaller slice of a larger pie than a perfectly equal slice of an insufficient, shrinking pie.

Together in One Accord

Killer Mike ends the video with apprehension over the potential creation of “monarch” families in American politics, a concern which I share wholeheartedly. He is referring to the potential of Hillary Clinton’s election as the second President in her household. And no doubt Sanders would use a similar argument (correctly and accurately) against a potential Bush dynasty.

I will however, caution that this is not a novel trend. The Kennedys have wielded substantial power over the last fifty years. Two Roosevelts have occupied the White House and the George W. Bush was not the first President Jr. While this concern would have likely prevented me from voting for Jeb Bush had he won the Republican primary, it is not cause for panic or hyperbole.

Engagement

As always, I welcome any criticisms or disagreements in the form of comments, messages, emails, or smoke signals. But be advised that (a) I may ignore or remove profanity or ad hominem attacks, (b) the First Amendment does not prevent me from doing this, and (c) if you inform me via smoke signal that you are a socialist, I may wonder what a socialite is doing on a political blog.

Notes

  1. A conservative assumption, given that AHAR’s homelessness estimate for 2015 is a mere 0.5 million, meaning that homelessness is declining, meaning that those who were newly homeless were not likely to remain so
  2. 1+ years or 4 instances of homelessness in the last 3 years.
  3. See Part 2
  4. As Sanders himself emphasized so thoroughly only one video ago.
  5. It is unfair to single out a particular country (insufficient sample size), but Bernie chose this one, so my intellectual conscience is clear.

Edits

  1. 2016-06-02 10:33 EST – Slightly updated definition of selfishness.