Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale

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These Convenient Machines

Update: This post was adapted by The Huffington Post. You can find that article here.

“In our gradually shrinking world, everyone is in need of all the others. We must look for man wherever we can find him… We have many monsters to destroy.” –George Seferis

See your world in the palm of your Instagram.

The gods hiccupped yesterday. That is to say, Gmail and Facebook each went down for many users for several minutes or so. Predictably, everybody panicked (read: flocked to Twitter) and mocked each other’s panic, and some contemplated becoming, if only briefly, preternaturally productive.

If Harry Potter ever lost his wand, he would be left as unutterably alien to his own world as a quadriplegic quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. So many simple but essential tasks once taken for granted would suddenly be impossible. If there had ever been a time when J.K. Rowling’s wizards got along magically without their enchanted twigs, the knowledge of such a feat would be as lost on Harry as wilderness survival in a world without Wi-Fi or functioning smartphones is on most Americans.

Convenience is a tricky beast. As a group, we are technologically defined by our desire to do everything with nothing in no time at all. From DVR to YouTube, our attention spans shrink to minute intervals. In iPods and smartphones, erstwhile communal hotspots collapse into digital singularity. Through Xbox or social networks, we find our companionship online. As the latest devices emerge on the market, we are already bored with gadgets that would be magical to dead giants whose wars mutilated continents and disrupted civilizations.

The more our lives are functionally consolidated into ever fewer and smaller tools, the more susceptible our world becomes to more targeted disruption. Would it have been imaginable a couple decades ago that glitches in the product of a few institutions could stymie half the world in an instant? Yet now, in the twilight of 2012, Google links my email, internet browser, search habits, contacts, calendar, video watching, and innumerable accounts for websites not already linked to my Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Take out three companies, and my world stops. Take away my smartphone, and I couldn’t even find my way around the metro area I’ve lived in for years. I would go on about my laptop, but it would already be useless without our Silicon Valley overlords, and my body is fighting symptoms of withdrawal just thinking about all this. Excuse me while I watch some YouTube videos and check my Facebook feed to soothe that creeping anxiety…

All right, that’s much better.

It’s perhaps fitting that the latest instance of fiscal consolidation should occur around the engines of the cloud. Five weeks ago, voters in California opted to raise taxes on top earners in the state in order to resolve a spiraling budget crisis. The preliminary numbers are ostensibly favorable, and Democratic Governor Jerry Brown is heartily encouraging President Obama to follow through with such a plan at the national level. But if the gods are in the cloud, the devils are, as ever, in the details.

As Walter Russell Mead observes:

“There are two essential developments to note here. First, California will rely on a tiny group of people to erase $5 billion in debt. From now on, more than half of all the government operations will be funded by less than 1 percent of the state’s residents, who account for less than 20 percent of the state’s total income.

Second, the state economy is doing well at the moment relative to the rest of the country, but it is still losing jobs and skilled workers to lower-tax economies in Nevada, Texas, and the Southeast.

This tax-funded surplus will allow the state to momentarily ignore the underlying problems that drive the deficit. But the problem of the escalating costs of pensions and public services and the blue social model has not been resolved and will only worsen with time.”

For the federal government, the top 10% of households already accounts for more than 70% of income taxes and over half of all revenue. Since the recession, the federal tax burden has fallen on all but the top quintile. As taxes increasingly become the provenance of a shrinking base, our entitled deficit grows unchecked. How massively unsustainable must our system of taxes and borrowing get before we decide to rethink our asphyxiating choices? What happens when the next shock comes and the few key pillars of wealth cannot hold? What happens when the model fails?

Consolidation—like the convenience it breeds—is a tricky beast, indeed.



Fear and Consequence

Update: This post was adapted by The Huffington Post. You can find that article here.

“They remain in the same place: They expect taxes to go up on the wealthy and to protect Medicare and Medicaid benefits. They feel confident that they don’t have to compromise.” –White House meeting attendee

“We have to make sure that people who vote for socialism feel the consequences of voting for socialism.” –Bill Whittle

“Elections have consequences, America, and at the end of the cliff, I won!”

In the flurry of ideas about the future of the Republican Party and the contentious talks over the Sequester of Damocles, I decided to humor my Facebook friends by posting a conservative post-election take on A Modest Proposal:

“Also, if the GOP agrees to tax hikes in exchange for something else – like entitlement reform, but only the promise of reform which we know will never come to fruition – they will predictably get slaughtered for “caving” instead of compromising, which is actually what they’d be doing. Again, the GOP doesn’t have the skill or a complicit media to explain how they compromised while Obama and Democrats didn’t…

So what do they do? They’re stuck in a no-win situation. The answer is simple: Give Obama what he wants. All of it. Don’t negotiate. Just say, “Put your plan up for a vote and we’ll pass it. You will own everything that happens moving forward. We’ll do it your way.””

Presumably, there are a good many liberals who would love this approach, as it would allow them to get everything they want with some appearance of bipartisanship. As terrifying as it seems to conservatives, many do sincerely believe that fealty to obsolescing Great Society politics is part of a robust model for a better world. But the response I received was more interesting than any of that. To quote a Democrat-voting friend:

“Well yes, Obama did win, so I want Republicans to give up on Grover Norquist and accept tax hikes on the rich, but stay true to their other principles at the negotiation table. That is what a moderate Republican would do in my eyes. And that’s what ‘negotiation’ is.”

Curiously, it’s not enough for this friend to have his policy preferences enacted over Republican objections. He wants conservatives to be complicit in the act of raising taxes for nothing more than the hot air of hope for real change later. If this were accomplished, a caricature of conservatism would share equally in any blame for economic pain to come, and future politicians could pretend that nobody “serious” foresaw the calamity. My friend aside, the crux of nearly every argument from the Left for “moderation” and “balance” on the conservative commitment to limited government and free enterprise is this implicit desire for an ostensibly substantive—but actually empty—Republican stamp of involvement in a policy agenda that comes light in the arena of serious long-term proposals for averting disaster.

There is nothing “moderate” about Obama imperiously doubling his demand for more taxes or refusing to discuss cuts he will pursue for “balance”. Even as the President campaigned today against the dangers of tax hikes on small businesses, he has already reneged on his campaign promise to support a once bipartisan effort to lower corporate taxes and make American enterprise more competitive. This “balanced approach” denudes any leverage for securing necessary cuts that Democrats are already fighting. Necessary reforms will not be popular, and they will certainly not be more readily achieved when the incentive to produce them—expanded revenue—is already conceded and enacted.

So if Democrats are so eager to avenge the myth of Robin Hood against the dastardly “rich”, independent of all else, what does the “balanced” end game look like? What are the reforms that will secure Medicare beyond the next decade? Where is the talk of addressing the appreciating regulatory burden on businesses and energy policy? If we disapprove of offshore accounts, where is the attendant discussion about why American investors find it more profitable to send capital overseas than maintain it domestically? If Clinton-era tax rates are so preferable, where is the talk of reducing state taxes to 90s levels and restoring Clinton-era spending?

The right answers to these and other questions will do a lot more good for a lot more people than all the rate hikes in the world. Republicans are not out defending the rich against all reason. We are trying to ensure an actual balanced approach is accomplished in a matter broadly agreeable and efficacious in the face of ongoing intransigence from a storm of special interests with stakes in the status quo.

But while we’re on the subject, “the rich”—however defined—are neither the enemy nor wanting for patriotism. They just want to be industrious and successful like anybody else, and they find their fortunes where our policies encourage them to do so. If our current economic climate is not sufficiently geared towards growth and broad prosperity, then we’ll be in for a long, dark ride through the next four years.

Elections have consequences, America. I hope we’re ready for them all.