Don’t forget the value of cynicism in weakening an economy. It is a critical tool in sowing distrust and fatalism, as in “Why try, when it doesn’t matter anyway?” or “Why should I follow the rules, when they don’t?” Greece, for example, is a cynical country to the core and one can see where such endemic distrust got them: a successfully ruined economy.
I would lecture about the evils of federal bailouts to Wall Street fat cats who then take million-dollar bonuses for mediocre performance — and then appoint a Treasury secretary who did just that. I would trash offshore accounts as something amoral and unpatriotic — and then appoint a Treasury secretary who did just that. I would lecture about paying your fair share and hiking taxes — and then appoint a Treasury secretary who avoided paying the income taxes he owed. I would sermonize on the evils of the revolving door — and then appoint as my top financial officials those who for a lifetime have gone into the White House, out to Wall Street, and back into the White House. Again, if “they” do that, why then do “we” need to pay our taxes or follow ethical behavior? The cynical mindset is a valuable tool in recreating a Greece or Italy. Indeed, almost any cynicism is a good thing: so why not praise federal financing of campaigns and then be the first to refuse it, or campaign on the evils of the Bush anti-terrorism protocol and then embrace or expand almost all of it?
Top Down, Not Bottom Up
Leveling must go in one direction, not two. To ensure equality, the public schools should lower standards so that all are the same. The more who need remediation upon entering college, the more likely the curriculum will have to adjust to level the playing field, and the less skilled will emerge the average graduate. The more that those with “Cadillac” insurance plans can have procedures rationed, the more others will see their own options expanded.
The world is a finite system, a pie with only so many slices. There is no middle class, just rich and poor. For each F student, an A student stole the former’s resources. I would invest not in honor students, but in remedial ones. Grades and test scores should count little for college admission; life “experiences” and community service far better would ensure the presence of mediocre students. The aim again is not to turn out graduates with expertise or knowledge who build a strong economy, but to graduate students, brand them with degrees, and ensure they are invested in a similar ideology of redistribution. If California — of Caltech and Stanford repute — can dumb down its public schools to rank 48th or 49th in the nation in math or English testing, then there is hope for the country at large.
The War of Words
Prosperity is always relative, never absolute. A car, a house, or a job is not to be judged on its own merits, but in comparison to someone else who has one better. If today’s Kias are better than a Mercedes of 20 years ago, it matters little: they are not as nice as someone else’s Mercedes of today. Britain in the postwar 1940s discovered the power of envy and what it can do to slow down ill-won prosperity.
From Plato to Marx to Tocqueville, philosophical minds, for both good and bad reasons, have always appreciated that human nature is attracted to the idea of enforced equality, to such a degree that most would rather be poor and the same, than better off with some far better off. Let’s give them that chance!
I would try to redefine the entire capitalist notion of profit, getting ahead, and being rich or successful as something arbitrary. Better yet, it should be analogous to cheating, proof of unfairness, or incurring general shame. The point is to make profit-making synonymous with failure; and poverty something inherently noble. Compensation should be seen as capricious, never based on logical requisites like education, knowledge, experience, level of responsibility, hard work, personal comportment, or even the less predictable such as health, luck, fate, and chance. Redefine rich and poor to emphasize the fact that one making $20,000 a year and another $200,000 is unfair, period — and to be corrected by a fair, all-knowing, and compassionate government. I would talk always of poverty and hunger, never of the epidemic of obesity or the nation’s collective youth glued to iPhones.