When you cut right through it, right-wing ideology is just “dime-store economics” – intended to dress their ideology up and make it look respectable. You don’t really need to know much about economics to understand it. They certainly don’t. It all gets down to two simple words.
“Cheap labor”. That’s their whole philosophy in a nutshell – which gives you a short and pithy “catch phrase” that describes them perfectly. You’ve heard of “big-government liberals”. Well they’re “cheap-labor conservatives”.
Once you understand the general concept, you will frequently find yourself in debate over specific issues, like healthcare, social security privatization, public school vouchers, the “war on drugs” and of course the war in Iraq. What better way to put your conservative opponent on the defensive than by exposing the true motivation for his position – “cheap labor”. Can you really find the “cheap labor” angle in every conservative policy initiative, and every conservative position on any particular issue?
Yes, you can. Here is a catalogue of some of the major issues on the national agenda. In every single one of them, the conservative position advances the cause of “cheap labor”. I defy any conservative reading this to show me one single conservative position, belief, principle or policy that has any tendency to boost the earning power of labor.1. DUBYA’S TAX CUTS AND RESULTING BUDGET DEFICITS
Twenty years ago, cheap-labor conservatives claimed that tax cuts would stimulate the economy, and lead to balanced budgets. They don’t even bother spouting that crap any more. Now they say that deficits “aren’t so bad”, they don’t drive up interest rates, and they don’t create inflationary pressure.
Here’s the real skinny. The purpose behind tax cuts and budget deficits is to bankrupt the government.
Conservatives hate “social spending”. That’s what they mean by “big government”. They want you naked in as harsh an economic environment as they can create. But here’s the problem. Most ordinary people aren’t so ruthless. Most people think life is for living, not working your ass off until you drop. So if we the people can provide some basic social infrastructure for things like a basic retirement, assistance for higher education, unemployment compensation to get you through those Republican periods of high unemployment – well, most people support all of that stuff. Conservatives lose elections when they talk about undoing it.
So the manipulative sons of bitches – who don’t really believe in your right as a citizen in a democracy to establish institutions that do you any good – have come up with a “stealth plan” to get rid of our entire social welfare infrastructure. It’s called “bankruptcy”, and it is not an accident that the first thing Dubya did when he took office was bring back the deficits Bill Clinton had eliminated.2. OPPOSITION TO EVERY IMPROVEMENT IN WAGES AND WORKING CONDITIONS IN US HISTORY
This is obviously directly related to “cheap labor” and doesn’t require much further explanation. In fact, the heading serves as the “One Sentence Response” – and I would stress the “every improvement in US history”, all the way back to abolition of slavery, and such obvious reforms as child labor laws. Cheap-labor conservatives have never been the friend of working Americans. Ever.3. OPPOSITION TO ANY SORT OF NATIONAL HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
Health care costs are outrageously expensive, and threaten people with financial ruin. Also, health insurance is primarily provided by employers through “group plans”. So if you lose your job, you lose your health coverage. This is not quite as a big a problem, since the passage of COBRA – which was opposed by guess who? That’s right, the cheap-labor conservatives.
In short, national health insurance would provide a huge measure of security for working Americans from potential financial catastrophe – which catastrophe is therefore no longer a force keeping you suitably intimidated by your employer.4. SCHOOL VOUCHERS, OPPOSITION TO THE FEDERAL DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, OPPOSITION TO LOCAL BOND ISSUES, ETC.
Way back in the late nineteenth century – where the cheap-labor conservatives are trying to take us – conservatives opposed universal public education. You can go to “Freeper” right now and find cheap-labor conservatives who still oppose it. And the reason is simple. Ignorant and illiterate people have fewer options in life, making them fit subjects for “industrial serfdom”.
In other words, an ineffective public education system is necessary to create a semi-literate workforce of “industrial serfs”, which accounts for cheap-labor conservative opposition to increased teacher pay, smaller class sizes, improvements in physical infrastructure, and anything else that might actually work.
Let’s just propose a simple thought experiment. Suppose we had 95% functional literacy, with similar high school graduation rates, and vast numbers of those high school graduates going to college, or receiving specialized technical training. When everybody is properly educated, who is going to ride on the back of the garbage truck? Who is going to pick tomatoes? Who is going to digger footers on construction sites? And what kind of wages are such workers – who are in short supply and smart enough to know it – going to command?
But wait, there’s more. Let’s consider your average dittohead “wannabe” living in the suburbs. Does he really want his children competing with those “brown” children for a seat in the university? What interest does he have in universal education that actually works? And you know how conservatives are about their “self-interest”.
Well, he can’t very well advocate “resegregation”. So here’s what the cheap-labor conservatives came up with. “Vouchers”. Some of those “brown” children can escape from failing schools – but not all of them. As for the one’s that are “left behind”, well there’s a garbage truck with their name on it – assuming they don’t wind up in jail.5. “LAW” AND “ORDER”
According to cheap-labor conservatives, the only legitimate function of government is to protect the fortunes and privilege of the “haves”. Economic progress like “full employment”, living wages, and first rate education system, all improve the living standards and prospects of the “working poor” – and the “cheap-labor conservatives” can’t have that, can they. So that leaves prison as the only “social program” the conservatives support. They say we “throw money at every problem”. Well “cheap-labor conservatives” throw prison at every problem.6. “FAMILY VALUES” AND THE “CULTURE WAR”
They say they are defending American “culture” – but that “culture” is the culture of the corporate “middle class”. It features conformity, hierarchy, “respect for authority”, regimentation and other “values” of the industrial work place. In fact, America was founded by a group of decidedly undisciplined nonconformists. But that won’t do at all, if you want a docile workforce who will work cheap.7. RACISM AND OTHER FORMS OF BIGOTRY
This one is amazingly easy to understand. Dividing working people against each other along racial, gender and ethnic lines keeps them from uniting along class lines. Consider the following example. In 1990, the nation was suffering under yet another period of Republican high unemployment. That was the year that Jesse Helms ran his famous “angry hands” commercial against Harvey Gantt, former African-American mayor of Charlotte. “You needed that job, but they had to give it to a minority.”
This gambit is 150 years old. The cheap-labor conservatives produce a high deficit, high interest rate, “structurally sluggish” economy – then tell struggling white wage-earners that the “problem” is “unqualified minorities”. It was classic “scapegoating”, when the real culprits were the cheap-labor conservatives who liked that sluggish economy.
And in case you doubt whether they liked the sluggish economy, consider the eight year tantrum they threw as President Clinton undid the deficits, brought interest rates down, and fueled an eight year economic boom, bringing unemployment to a 30 year low. Naturally, throwing a wrench into that economy was the first order of business after Dubya’s inauguration.8. “RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS.”
Since prison and punishment are generally ineffective to reduce crime, and since the “cheap-labor conservatives” will hear of no economic improvements that are effective, “self defense” is about your only protection from crime. Instead of better schools, full employment and other improvements in social conditions, the cheap-labor conservative solution is “buy a gun”.9. THE “WAR ON DRUGS”
Maybe you don’t see the cheap-labor connection. It’s there. The “libertarian” position on this is that what you choose to voluntarily ingest, is your business. And of course, marijuana isn’t nearly as bad for you as say, alcohol abuse. But cheap-labor conservatives don’t give a rat’s ass about you’re health, anyway.
What they do care about is delegitimizing the “counter-culture”. If they could do it, they would outlaw deviations from the conformist culture of the “corporate middle class”. They can’t do that directly, so they have come with a “back door” method. They find cultural practices – like smoking a joint – and punish those. Today, they deny education benefits if you have any drug conviction – even for simple possession. They have also encouraged this “privatized” harassment of corporate workers through drug screening, etc. in an effort to economically marginalize the “counter culture”. It is really an exquisitely efficient means to keep the industrial work force intimidated.10. “PRO OIL” ENERGY POLICIES
Answer this question, why don’t we have efficient cost effective renewable energy systems? Why didn’t we follow Jimmy Carter’s advice in 1979, and undertake the “moral equivalent of war” for energy independence. The technology has been around for decades. In the case of hydrogen fuel cells, the first one was invented in 1843 – that’s “eighteen forty three”.
Energy is like labor in its central importance to the economy. But while conservatives want “cheap labor” they want “expensive energy” – in sources they can monopolize and control. Unfortunately, sunlight is like air. It’s kind of hard to “corner the market” on it. Meanwhile, the biggest beneficiary of “cheap energy” is the work force – who pay a larger portion of their income for energy. Well, we can’t have that. Lowering a wage earner’s “balance of payments” is just like giving him a raise. The same logic, by the way, motivates a “high interest rate” environment.
Now you know why conservatives bad mouth “renewable energy”, and claim that the government “has no business” subsidizing R&D into this technology – as if the government hasn’t subsidized R&D into virtually every piece of high tech gadgetry in your house. Meanwhile, there is one form of “alternative energy” they like. Nuclear power. Why? Because nuclear power is horrendously expensive, and can be monopolized by the huge corporations selling it.
Meanwhile, they support destruction of pristine habitats like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and unlawful invasions of sovereign nations – sitting on a “sea of oil” to use the words of Paul Wolfowitz. All of which proves that the cheap-labor conservatives will do anything – and I mean anything – to prevent any improvement in the wage earner’s economic circumstances, including making sure he doesn’t have access to “cheap energy”.11. THE INVASION OF IRAQ AND THE “BUSH DOCTRINE”
Perhaps, you thought this should be first – since it is highest on the national agenda right at the moment. Actually, the War in Iraq is an aggregate application of a number of simpler “cheap-labor” policies. First of all, Republican “demonization” notwithstanding, Saddam Hussein was a “target of opportunity”. Paul Wolfowitz said so. Saddam sat atop a really odious regime, in a country sitting atop a “sea of oil” – to again quote Paul Wolfowitz. As for global opposition to the US invasion, that was not an “unforeseen complication”. It was another ”opportunity”. In fact, one of the objectives was to demonstrate to the world that the US can do whatever it wants.
But what about the “cheap-labor” angle, you ask. The invasion of Iraq is the first step in establishing a US led global corporate empire, with a wealthy corporate elite living off of a global pool of “cheap labor”.
Don’t’ believe it? Go to whitehouse.gov and look at the National Security Strategy of the United States. This remarkable document lays out the “cheap-labor” foreign policy of the United States. In addition to the doctrine of “pre-emption – which is nothing new, we’ve been doing it for fifty years – there is the general strategy of “forward deployment” of US forces in the middle east and east Asia, along with the express goal of “discouraging” the emergence of a military rival.
But the National Security Strategy doesn’t stop there. It goes on to discuss which internal policies of other nations the US will “encourage”. Guess what those policies are? The very same policies they are promoting here, including “free trade”, “flattening” tax rates, shifting taxes away from passive investments, reducing the “public sector”, and generally paving the way for corporations to dominate other societies.
The US military will be the “police force” for this global “corporate order”, and Iraq is nothing more than the start of establishing the “military pre-eminance” of that “global police force”. Notice that the neocons are specifically intent on destabilizing international organizations that don’t promote corporate dominance. The conservatives don’t like the World Court, the United Nations or similar organizations. But GATT, the IMF and the World Bank don’t bother them a bit – since those organizations undermine the ability of third world nations to establish anything like our “New Deal mixed economy". And don’t forget, the cheap-labor conservatives are busy destabilizing our own “New Deal mixed economy”, in favor of an economy that strongly resembles present conditions in say, Argentina.
In short, the invasion of Iraq has nothing to do with any “threat” of weapons of mass destruction. Neither do the cheap-labor conservatives really care about a “dictatorial regime” – since they prop plenty of them up, and even supported Saddam Hussein in years gone by. The real purpose of the invasion of Iraq is to provide a demonstration of American military “pre-eminance” – which will ultimately translate into global corporate “pre-eminance”. If you want another word for this “cheap-labor” foreign policy, try “corporate feudalism”.
These aren’t the only examples of “cheap-labor conservative” policies and positions. While I will be supplementing and expanding this list from time to time, you should be getting the idea. Anytime a cheap-labor conservative takes a position on anything at all, take a look at the details. See if somewhere in those details there isn’t some way the wage-earner loses out. I have not yet failed to find the connection. Either the conservative position undermines the bargaining power of the wage earner, limits his economic options, harasses the wage earner in some way, raises his cost of living, increases his economic vulnerability or accomplishes some combination of the above.
Now you can see how, in specific examples. More importantly, you have new tool to use to analyze cheap-labor conservative rhetoric, ideology and policy.This piece originally posted at: Conceptual Guerilla.