According to some conservatives the important thing about capitalism is not freedom or the positive benefits it brings (e.g., the incredible array of vegetarian products out there compared to when I graduated college) but that it places everyone under the Sword of Damocles: ““The great, overwhelming fact of a capitalist economy is risk. Everyone is at constant risk of the loss of his job, or of the destruction of his business by a competitor, or of the crash of his investment portfolio. Risk makes people circumspect. It disciplines them and teaches them self-control. Without a safety net, people won’t try to vault across the big top. ” — David Frum. If there was no safety net, for example, life as a single parent would be too hazardous, forcing families to stay together.
This is a common thought. David Brooks has argued that when the economy tanks, that forces employees to stay loyal to one employer instead of switching jobs for better pay; he considers this a good thing. Odious right-wing economist Walter Williams once argued that if there was no Social Security this would be great for families: kids would have to assume responsibility for caring for their aged parents, who would therefore demand their kids get serious college degrees that lead to good-paying job, not bullshit like women’s studies (as someone whose parents hated him becoming a writer I guarantee you this approach will not bring families closer together).
It’s reflected in Sen. Rick Scott’s claim that people who aren’t millionaires don’t have skin in the game so they need their taxes raised. He is aggressively sticking with this platform, though also lying that saying he wants to increase taxes is just a Democratic talking point (I sincerely hope it will be a talking point, but it’s definitely part of his plan). Or one Texas poll asserting during the 2021 snowpocalypse that only the strong survive so his constituents should stop asking for help.
All of which is bullshit. The poor pay in plenty of taxes: sales taxes eat up much more of their income than for the rich, for instance. As Echidne of the Snakes says, American business has told employees not to expect loyalty from employers; job-hopping is a logical response (for many employers the obvious solution — pay them better, treat them better — is too outlandish to even consider). And as noted at my first link, even if you live on a tight budget, stick with one employer and do good work, there’s no guarantee your job won’t be axed or outsized so that the owners can see bigger dividends. What conservatives are proposing isn’t a plan for surviving, let alone thriving, it’s demanding that the lowly working class stay suitably submissive. Don’t inconvenience your bosses by changing jobs; don’t indulge yourself by spending money on anything fun. It won’t save your job or guarantee keeping a roof over your head but you won’t inconvenience the rich and powerful which is what really counts.
This brings me back to one of my favorite quotes, from Cato’s letter: “the best defence which we can have against their being knaves, is to make it terrible to them to be knaves. As there are many men wicked in some stations, who would be innocent in others; the best way is to make wickedness unsafe in any station.” Because the right-wingers who embrace the Risk and Suffering Are Good For You bilge never think this should apply to people in higher stations: business owners, politicians, millionaires.
For all Frum’s talk about business being at risk in capitalism, the risks are much less for them. Only one banker went to jail for all the insane risks and sometimes outright fraud that caused the 2008 financial collapse. Filing Chapter Eleven bankruptcy allows many businesses to wriggle out of paying their debts, even if they have the money. Insider trading is rife on Wall Street, even when it hurts the stockbrokers’ clients. Money and power bring immunity.
A number of people have been convicted for their actions on 1/6 but nobody in the Republican Party leadership as yet. Ginni Thomas was an active participant in the 1/6 insurrection, which should mean Clarence Thomas recuses himself on related rulings. If he decides not to, there’s no legal constraint forcing him (Rep. Jim Jordan claims Thomas was simply acting on her political beliefs as if that’s an excuse; dude, so did Pol Pot, Timothy McVeigh and Osama binLadin). And Donald Trump, of course, has devoted most of his life to avoiding consequences for his actions, whether by lying, threatening to sue people, or launching a coup to prevent the legal transfer of power.
And of course, sexual harassers time and again get a free pass. Mark Galli at Christianity Today engaged in two decades (at least) of harassment without consequences. The Southern Baptist Church turned a blind eye to predators in the pulpit and church hierarchy.
Very few right-wingers who think the average American should live frugally and in fear really think the upper classes should do the same. And in practice, very few do. This is a problem because when wickedness in a given station is safe to get away with, wickedness will inevitably flourish. Just like Frum says, if bankers can see greater profits and bonuses by cheating customers, some of them will. And when people see that behavior is consequence free or worse, rewarded, it will spread.
There are ways to fix this, of course, but they all require the will to take action rather than fold. Without that will, I’m not sure there is a solution. I’ll take some small comfort from knowing that Alex Jones, at least, looks to be headed for a reckoning.