POSTS FOR 2016

Stupid, Short-Term Self-Interest

Politics1647 words8 minutes to read

In response to “I moved to the US 7 years ago from Finland — here's what Americans don't understand about Nordic countries”, and why I support Bernie Sanders.

Here’s what Americans don’t understand about Nordic countries

Anu Partanen, writing for The Atlantic:

Commentators repeat endlessly the mantra that Sanders’s Nordic-style policies might sound nice, but they’d never work in the U.S. The upshot is that Sanders, and his supporters, are being treated a bit like children—good-hearted, but hopelessly naive. That’s probably how Nordic people seem to many Americans, too.

A Nordic person myself, I left my native Finland seven years ago and moved to the U.S. Although I’m now a U.S. citizen, I hear these kinds of comments from Americans all the time—at cocktail parties and at panel discussions, in town hall meetings and on the opinion pages. Nordic countries are the way they are, I’m told, because they are small, homogeneous “nanny states” where everyone looks alike, thinks alike, and belongs to a big extended family.

This, in turn, makes Nordic citizens willing to sacrifice their own interests to help their neighbors. Americans don’t feel a similar kinship with other Americans, I’m told, and thus will never sacrifice their own interests for the common good.

And follows that up with an important premise:

But this vision of homogeneous, altruistic Nordic lands is mostly a fantasy. The choices Nordic countries have made have little to do with altruism or kinship. Rather, Nordic people have made their decisions out of self-interest. Nordic nations offer their citizens—all of their citizens, but especially the middle class—high-quality services that save people a lot of money, time, and trouble. This is what Americans fail to understand: My taxes in Finland were used to pay for top-notch services for me.

And lastly,

Americans are not wrong to abhor the specters of socialism and big government. In fact, as a proud Finn, I often like to remind my American friends that my countrymen in Finland fought two brutal wars against the Soviet Union to preserve Finland’s freedom and independence against socialism. No one wants to live in a society that doesn’t support individual liberty, entrepreneurship, and open markets.

But the truth is that free-market capitalism and universal social policies go well together—this isn’t about big government, it’s about smart government.

This is a very good piece, and I hope you can take a few minutes to read it all. In the U.S., and especially among the Boomer generation, they hear “socialism” and tend to equate it with Russian communism (which was actually never communism, but rather a dictator-style totalitarian socialism).

Too Much Capitalism Is Bad For You

Photo by Jeff Gates. https://www.flickr.com/photos/outtacontext/5065175199/in/album-72157652056682098/

For me, I see the pros and cons of such a capitalistic-driven society. The pros are a tremendous number of advancements, and the opportunity for tremendous wealth for the very-very-few (i.e., the top 1%). But the biggest cons to capitalism (that we’re seeing now) is cronyism and corporate welfare — the fact that an oligarchy of corporations has more influence on our Congress than our citizen voters do. IMO, there is a tipping point where, by embracing too much capitalism, we give more power to the rich… which only serves to eliminate the middle-class (which we’ve been seeing for a while now).

Some people (i.e., my mother) hear the word “socialism” and begin describing (extremist) Marxist communism. Not the same thing! America is currently ≈30% democratic socialist (e.g., medicare, social security, police & fire departments, running water and electricity, bank regulations) and ≈70% capitalist (e.g., mass-market electronics manufactured in China, Wall St. influence in elections, congresspeople leaving their jobs and taking a 1425% salary increase by becoming corporate lobbyists).

The good ideas that I see in Canada and Scandinavian countries is precisely what this op-ed discusses. I don’t think that the government could or should take over every need for every person. What I think instead is that the government’s role is to provide a solid foundation for all (e.g., education, healthcare, police & fire departments, Internet service free from corporate influence and control), which allows individual American citizens a more evenly-balanced opportunity to engage capitalism and new ideas, start companies, and let the free markets decide how successful those opportunities are.

Making A Better America

Photo by Jeff Gates. https://www.flickr.com/photos/outtacontext/16578930073/in/album-72157652056682098/

I want to leave a better world behind for my kids. A world where my daughter is paid as much as my son. A world where if my son has a cool idea, that he can invest his energy in research and development to build it, without spending the next 10–20 years after college paying off crippling amounts of debt. A world where my daughter can go out to a nightclub with friends after work and not be called a “bitch” or a “whore” just because she doesn’t want to have a conversation with some guy who starts talking to her.

Because of the corporate welfare and cronyistic ways that corporations and congress have benefitted from each other over the years, I do share the skepticism that many on the right have with the government actually doing a good job with the money that we give them for programs. Look at education, for example. Education in K-12 has been pretty bad for a long time, and does not equip people for the world after high school. Fewer people are attending college, so in order for a college to be more effective, it needs to charge more, which excludes more people for cost reasons, which causes it to charge more. The cost of college has risen dramatically since the last generation attended. The result: more people who don’t know anything about how our country works. More blue-collar workers with jobs that are being shipped overseas, triggering outrage and further destruction of the middle-class. It’s a vicious cycle.

What I’m currently hearing from Cruz, Trump and Rand is idealistic rhetoric (e.g., “make America great again!”) without any kind of plan for how. We’re going to do these great things (!), but have no plan for how to accomplish them. What I’m hearing from Hillary and Bernie are plans for how to actually accomplish the things that they support. As an independent voter who is interested in looking at the facts instead of self-serving rhetoric, right now, the left is making more sense to me than the right. But I would love to see someone on the right with a plan for making America great again and including all Americans in that plan.

Unfair?

Photo by Jeff Gates. https://www.flickr.com/photos/outtacontext/22122675480/in/album-72157652056682098/

Yes, a 60 year old couple with no kids paying more money in taxes so that some other couple can have their kids in better daycare sounds unfair at first. But what if I told you that by not paying a very small percentage toward those kids, their parents had to struggle a lot more to make ends meet. Financial trouble leads to frustration and drinking, and ultimately destroys their marriage. The kids grow up with frustrated parents who don’t like each other, spend time getting into trouble, and since the parents are overworked, they’re not able to put money away for college. The kids grow up and turn to crime to make ends meet. Theft, robbery, drugs. And they do it all in the same neighborhood as the older couple who didn’t want to invest in anybody other than themselves. The old couple complains about how this country is going to hell, and are constantly frustrated by the crime and drug-use in their community.

Making small investments into your community and neighbors is not a bad thing. By raising-up the foundation for everyone, everybody benefits, albeit indirectly.

Support the Radical Center

Photo by Jeff Gates. https://www.flickr.com/photos/outtacontext/4764160036/in/album-72157652056682098/

Lastly, I think our current 2-party system is the most toxic aspect of American politics. What makes is even worse are the people who continue to reinforce the idea that you must vote for the primary Republican or the primary Democratic candidate. The Republican party has already assumed that Clinton will win the nomination on the Democratic side, but the race between herself and Sanders is extremely close. Conversely, the fact that loose cannons like Trump and Cruz have made it as far as they have over more sane and level-headed candidates like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio is saddening.

The only way to break free of the 2-party system is to stop reinforcing this 2-party mentality. IMO, it’s toxic to the American people that the RNC and the DNC are private corporations who pay for broadcast airtime, and can change the rules to determine who can/cannot be part of the debates. This leads to Tweedism, and further separates the voters from the nomination process (in addition to super-delegates and the electoral college).

I would also love to see the entire population of the United States abstain from the next election until we could vote on meaningful campaign finance reform, but that will never happen.

Reform

Ultimately, however, none of the promises made by presidential candidates will come to pass without substantial campaign finance reform. Congress decides on the budget, and it is the President’s job to spend that budget. With so many congresspeople in the pockets of large corporations instead of working in the best interests of the citizens they represent, there is little that will be accomplished until we achieve meaningful reform. With Cruz taking money from the Oil & Coal industries, with Clinton taking money from Wall Street, and with Trump taking money from the KKK, we’re all in big trouble.

Citizen-funded elections is the only way to achieve this.

P.S.

Photo by Jeff Gates. https://www.flickr.com/photos/outtacontext/8046789186/in/album-72157652056682098/

I would rather see the debates on both sides handled like The Newsroom, where any claims made by candidates are immediately fact-checked and untrue answers are discarded.


Featured image by Tony Webster.

Ryan Parman

Ryan Parman is an experienced software engineer, open source evangelist, and passionate user advocate currently living in Seattle. He is the creator of and , and worked on DevOps and Security at . He is now bringing learning into the digital age as an Engineering Lead and Site Reliability Engineer at . Ryan's aptly-named blog, , is where he writes about ideas longer than .