Matthew Rozsa loves quotes. And he disagrees with economic conservatives. Here’s where he’s going with that.
“I have gathered a posie of other men’s flowers, and nothing but the thread that binds them is my own.”
– John Bartlett, publisher and editor of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations”
Some men collect baseball cards. Others collect comic books. I collect quotes.
It’s hard for me to pinpoint the exact reason behind this affinity for aphorisms. Perhaps it can be traced back to my longstanding love of the English language, and particularly for the countless ways words can be used to capture human thought. Maybe its roots are found in my desire to find a relatively easy way to intellectually engage myself when bored. There is even the possibility that it stems from a subconscious recognition of my own innate verbosity, one that causes me to better appreciate thinkers who are capable of succinctness.
Most likely, however, my love of quotes comes from the simple fact that they are so damn useful.
Take my frustration with conservatives. On economic issues, right-wing pundits love to concoct all sorts of convoluted moral justifications for policies that benefit the wealthy and big business at the expense of the working class and poor. As one attempts to slog through the quagmire of platitudes, prevarications, and downright distortions that are the natural bi-products of these efforts, it is easy to lose sight of a simple truth that cuts all of their rationales to ribbons. Fortunately, economist John Kenneth Galbraith can help with that:
“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
When the falseness of their moral arguments becomes too blatant to be ignored, economic conservatives will often assert that they support policies which are morally wrong not because they feel doing so is in their best interest (that, they claim, is merely incidental), but rather because they are following fundamental economic laws which can never be violated. As this line of reasoning goes, conservatives are actually pained to see that economic policy cannot be carried out in a fashion that emphasizes human rights; at the same time, they have no choice, for the sheer notion that one can break the laws of the marketplace makes about as much sense as arguing that one can defy Newton’s Laws of Motion.
For a response to this, I turn to President Franklin Roosevelt:
“While they prate of economic laws, men and women are starving. We must lay hold of the fact that economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings.”
Another common defense used by economist rightists, ranging from Rush Limbaugh to Ron Paul, is that the rich deserve policies which favor their interests, since their ability to spread capital around makes them America’s “most productive citizens.” Here I simply cite the first Republican president himself, Abraham Lincoln:
“Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
At this, economic conservatives will sneer that liberals and other critics of pro-plutocratic policies simply lack the expertise to really know what they’re talking about. That always brings me to philosopher Nicholas Butler:
“An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing.”
After all of this baloney has failed to hold up, conservatives fall back on their classic stand-by, one culled directly from the McCarthy Era—i.e., the idea that economic liberalism is “socialist” and/or “un-American.” Fortunately, there are two quotes from prominent American statesmen, both of whom served before socialist ideology was even created, that easily disprove this claim. The first is from the Founding Father John Taylor of Caroline…
“Wealth, like suffrage, must be considerably distributed to sustain a democratick [sic] republic; and hence, whatever draws a considerable proportion of either into a few hands, will destroy it. As power follows wealth, the majority must either have wealth or lose power.”
… and the second is none other than the president whose face appears on the twenty dollar bill, Andrew Jackson:
“There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing.”
To conclude, I usually bear in mind the axiomatic truth about government articulated by the author Anatole France:
“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.”
Aren’t quotes fantastic?
Also by Matthew Rozsa
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