Unions, Lenin, and the American Way (Part III)
October 13, 2009 - 12:00 am
American trade unions spent almost a billion dollars in the recent election to put pro-union politicians in positions of power in Washington. The Service Employees International Union, in the words of its own president, has “spent a fortune to elect Barack Obama.” According to the Washington Examiner, the United Auto Workers had taken a break from bringing the auto industry to its knees and gave $1.98 million to Democratic candidates, plus $4.87 million in independent expenditures to Obama’s campaign.
The money came from the mandatory dues of the workers who often wouldn’t have donated or voted for these people. In return, the Obama labor shop is cutting back on the enforcement of federal disclosure rules, without which the workers won’t be able to see where their money is going. The union bosses have a very good reason to hide their activities: the AFL-CIO has been spending so much on politics that they’re going deeply into debt.
But they are getting the expected payback. The United Auto Workers have been rewarded with owning 55 percent of Chrysler and 39 percent of General Motors, with the rest of the shares owned by the Obama government. Let me use the occasion to give Detroit automakers solidarity greetings from the Donbass coal miners. If this trend continues, the younger generation may as well wonder how a town without any motors could ever be called Motown.
When the current recession began, the first weak links to break in the damaged economy were unionized businesses — most notably, the Big Three carmakers dominated by the UAW. By contrast, in the “right to work” southern states of Alabama and North Carolina, non-unionized Japanese and German carmakers with hourly labor costs 65 percent lower than those in Detroit continue to employ more than 60,000 American workers without asking for a taxpayer-funded bailout. And, unlike many of its unionized competitors that have gone bust, the non-unionized Wal-Mart remains profitable.
While the financial crisis itself was not caused by the unions, it was a product of the same economic philosophy which prompted the government to tamper with the housing markets. It started with the desire to help a designated class of low-income families by endowing them with home ownership in the name of “economic equality and justice.” But it ended with forced inequality, as countless home loans are now being repaid by taxpayers, many of whom don’t even own homes and whose prospects of buying one are getting slimmer as a result.
The initial market distortion created an economic gremlin — a younger cousin of the Donbass economic monster, if you will — only this time it was strategically placed right in the center of the world’s economic engine. What can go wrong when self-righteous campaigners for economic equality in the government order the banks to issue risky home loans to the poor? Only a ripple effect. The demand goes up, real estate prices rise, chances of repaying the loans get slimmer, the government further pressures the banks to turn a blind eye, the banks begin to repackage bad loans, the bubble bursts, the banks collapse, a recession ensues, borrowers lose jobs and can’t afford payments, and the entire financial system goes down. In the worldwide crisis that follows, countless poor people overseas who will never have a house become even poorer than they were before the U.S. government decided to enforce “economic equality and justice.”
Predictably, the fiasco is blamed on capitalist greed and selfishness.
The word “selfishness” is widely known as a trademarked fighting word, synonymous with immorality. Leftist ideologues liberally use it to club defenders of capitalism over their ruggedly individualistic heads. However, the same ideologues never decry selfishness when it is practiced by a group — either assuming that selfishness by definition cannot be collective, or that by being collective, selfishness gets an upgrade to a higher moral status, as if things perpetrated in the name of the community cannot be immoral.
And yet, not only has group selfishness always existed on all levels of society — from warring clans to nations and races — but selfishness exerted by collectivist pressure groups often is the basest, the most irrational and immoral form of selfishness.
While selfishness of an individual can be either rational or irrational, depending on whether it is based on reason or raw emotion, group selfishness is always irrational because crowd psychology is mostly driven by primeval collectivist instincts. Mussolini was well aware of the power of group selfishness, having built an entire ideology upon it, which he named fascism after the fasci — a bundle of rods tied together so that they couldn’t be broken. In Ukraine, where I grew up, folk wisdom summed it up in a sarcastic proverb, “Collectively, even beating up your own father is a breeze.”
A moral strength that motivates one to succeed in life through one’s own effort and self-improvement can also be described as selfishness. But the collectivists make no distinction between an individual’s rational, constructive pursuit of self-interest and the irrational, destructive selfishness that drives one to sacrifice other people’s lives or property for one’s own personal gain or to become a leech on society. The two kinds are worlds apart — and yet they are often lumped together, especially with the purpose of discrediting successful people and businesses.
The extreme expressions of one’s irrational, destructive selfishness — fraud, theft, extortion, and violence — are punishable by law. The society never fails to condemn it as immoral, and rightly so. But when the same irrational, destructive selfishness is displayed by a group, it seldom causes quite the same moral indignation. Likewise, collective fraud, theft, extortion, and even violence don’t necessarily result in punishment.
In today’s ideological climate, sacrificing other people’s lives or property for collective gain, or striving to become leeches on society, is hardly deemed criminal or immoral. On the contrary, group selfishness is being extolled as a virtue and paraded under such euphemistic Orwellian labels as fairness, justice, equality, awareness, and civil rights. According to the collectivist moral code, no sacrifice is too great as long as it is done for the sake of the “many” — even if these “many” are a narrowly defined group with irrational selfish interests seeking to live at the expense of other groups.
In the 20th century, the same moral code inspired communists to sacrifice “some” for the sake of the “many” — with the estimated numbers of “some” ranging from 100 to 200 million people. Nazis used a similar collectivist moral code as they sacrificed millions of innocents to their perverted idea of the “common good,” although they could hardly compete with communists in the scale and effectiveness of their altruistic outreach.
But even if it hadn’t resulted in grotesque mass murder, group selfishness would still be immoral because it dehumanizes people by denying them their unique individuality and alienating them from their human selves. It causes people to be judged not by the content of their character, but by their color, class, income, ethnicity, sexual preferences, or trade associations. And when these secondary attributes supplant primary human attributes, people cease being individuals and become two-dimensional cardboard cutouts, social functions, sacrificial animals, and expandable pawns in the clash among collectivist pressure groups for unearned status, privilege, money, and power.
In the United States, the corrupting influence of unearned entitlements, fueled by class envy and cultivated grievances, has already recruited enough members to form a solid voting bloc, whose elected representatives never stop trying to legitimize the collectivist new order. The claim on unearned entitlements goes hand in hand with the claim on unearned moral authority — a travesty that few dare challenge. And as the number of unchallenged travesties continues to expand, so does the number of collectivist pressure groups and their appetites.
Another popular fighting word trademarked by leftist ideologues is “greed.” Equated with immorality, it is used daily in the left-leaning American media to support a barrage of anti-capitalist arguments.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines “greed” as “an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves.” Let’s leave aside the subjective word “need,” as well as the question “Who defines need?” for another discussion. The key word here is “deserve,” which is synonymous with “earn.” And while an individual’s desire to possess more than what one has earned is being justly condemned as immoral, a collective desire to possess more than what members of a group have earned is becoming increasingly morally acceptable to many Americans, who are now willing to sacrifice their own country to the illusory moral superiority of group interests over individual rights.
At first I was shocked that people as richly endowed with individual freedoms and opportunities as Americans could fall for such a backward and repulsive social model. But pressure groups admittedly possess a perverse kind of magnetism, similar to that of street gangs, which seem attractive enough for some people to join and forgo the chance to advance oneself in the real world. Membership in a gang gives one the sense of belonging without the requirement of self-improvement. One doesn’t need to be an achiever, lead a moral existence, or do anything at all for that matter — all one needs to do is shed his human individuality and not ask questions.
Collectivist pressure groups are all that and much more. They bait people with the promise of instant entitlements just for being a member. Each group has its ascribed role, legend, grievance, and a turf of operations. Each group pulls the blanket of privileges and exclusive rights onto itself, creating new rules and setting up new terms that render the Constitution meaningless. Together, they create an illusion of a vast moral majority, a representative body competing with the U.S. Congress, an alternative government, a massive front battling American capitalism and individualistic civilization.
While any of these groups would more or less fit Lenin’s template as “a school of communism,” trade unions have been the undisputed pioneers that blazed a trail for the rest of them. Today, they continue to be the most active and powerful players in the system they helped to create.
Coming soon: “How Rigging the Economy in the Name of ‘Fairness’ Expands the Income Gap.”