I was talking with a friend the other day about the environmental benefits of keeping capitalism on a tight leash with a choke chain. Yes, the best established company can make the most money, but when profit becomes the only merit, it tends to come at someone else’s expense. These are called externalized costs, like pollution from industrial projects that damages ecosystems and/or requires costly public cleanup.
On The Pump Handle, Kim Krisberg has another example of an externalized cost: fast food chains billing taxpayers to take care of their employees. Living on minimum wage, “half of the families of full-time workers participate in public assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.” Krisberg continues, “public dollars are basically subsidizing fast food profits — the 10 largest U.S. fast food companies cost taxpayers about $3.8 billion every year in public assistance for their workers.” Most of the expenses saved by the companies end up lining the pockets of a few elite entities and stockholders.
Public welfare programs, including those that compensate for the avarice of CEO culture, obviously contribute to our national debt. So does spending on making sure we have the power to kill everyone else on earth. So does imprisoning people for drug offenses for which they would be better (and more cheaply) sent to rehab. So does public education and national land administration. So would a wall between U.S. and Mexico.
Now of course, everyone is talking about “Obamacare.” The Affordable Care Act basically regulates health insurance for the whole country where once companies could choose whom they wanted to exclude from modern medical care and what to charge everyone else. Yes, the fact that the costs of health care will soon be managed by the federal government means that our budgets and our debts will get bigger. But this is only a short term perspective. The long term financial incentive of national healthcare is eliminating waste and wasteful spending. In other words, saving money. Not just for the government but for we the taxpayers, who won’t have to pay an artificial price for every product and service received in a hospital—a price waged against the costs of emergency service, bills unpaid by the un- or under-insured, and steep discounts for insurance companies. With a shift in medical care toward public health priorities, we will be motivated to save money rather than award more of it to our elites.
In short, we waste money when we punish what we could more cheaply reform, when we try to heal what we would be better off to prevent or reverse (e.g. heart disease), when we marshal a hypervigilant military to protect us from our enemies while allowing will-be mass murderers to buy automatic rifles as they please. We waste money when we gamble, and we let bankers gamble with all the money we have. In a culture that venerates wealth above all else, we look the other way as wasteful economic activity and lax regulation only serve to enrich the rich and impoverish the poor. If any of us were truly conservative, we would want to protect or gain what we know is good: clean air and water, a healthy global ecosystem, a happy, well-nourished, stable populace. We would want to save for the future and in doing so reduce our carbon footprint. We would make our business less busy, and we would walk every day for hours.
Income inequality in America has skyrocketed in the last fifty years. Our wealthiest citizens and corporations have had a profound influence on our leadership in Washington, D.C. and they have defined tax and business codes in their interest so they can make more and more money. If someone’s business is to make art, then let them charge whatever they want. But if their business is to ensure life and liberty for the American people, then they are known as the government, and they have a responsibility to be fiscally conservative.
Especially as global population explodes, our freedom must stop at the freedom to make needless profits by burning needless amounts of energy. Otherwise we will cook the planet, and revolt.