Before the election, I bumped into friends at the grocery store. One asked about instant runoff voting: pick your first, second and third choices from a raft of judicial candidates.
It’s too complicated, she said.
Somebody thinks it will save money on runoffs and be more efficient, I explained.
Well, she answered, whoever thought that up doesn’t understand how real people think. (About one-third of election-day voters in our county skipped those races. The Early Voting breakdown from the BOE is still pending.)
After Heath Shuler’s reelection victory on November 2, I headed for the Renaissance Hotel bar with friend who works on the Hill. We were discussing how to attract private capital for rebuilding manufacturing in western North Carolina when a self-described fiscal conservative butted in to talk about communists on the left.
I guess some pejoratives are just timeless. The Berlin Wall fell twenty years ago, pal, and you guys can’t get your heads out of the last century. Seen Shanghai lately? Not even the communists are communists.
“I’m a blogger,” I told him. “I attend a couple of annual conventions where I hang out with some of the people you’d consider communists. And I don’t know anybody who fits that description.”
Trust me, dinner conversation at such affairs doesn’t turn on how workers should control the means of production. I heard Lou Jacobi in my head reworking classic Jewish joke. By Rush Limbaugh, they’re communists. By Glenn Beck, they’re communists. And by you, they’re communists. But by a communist, they’re no communists!
Fiscal Conservative turned to the judges races. People should do the work to investigate candidates’ backgrounds and legal philosophy in the nonpartisan judicial races, he insisted. But instead, the local Democratic Party just furnishes voters with slate cards that just identify the Democratic judges.
He was right. It is not ideal. But it’s how busy people vote. Their decision process is less linear. They take shortcuts.
The quad at our local university exhibits a nice linear pattern of sidewalks — some architect’s idea of formal design and aesthetic appeal. But the grass exhibits worn paths where real people actually walk. Formal design doesn’t necessarily mesh with how people really behave. Smart people from both ends of the political continuum miss that. People vote for candidates they identify with. They take shortcuts.
Eventually, Fiscal Conservative asked one of those gotcha question meant to separate the capitalists from the commies: Which was better at creating jobs, government or the private sector? The question wasn’t just an accusation, but about somebody’s idea of efficiency.
Indeed, the Soviets thought it would be more efficient to collectivize farms and develop 5-year plans for production. Instead of wasting resources on making a dozen models of cars, there should be one model, etc. The attempt satisfied somebody’s need to perfect mankind, but it met with less than ideal results.
Among many capitalists, on the other hand, there’s this assumption that something is not worth doing (and maybe vaguely subversive) unless somebody, preferably them, is making a buck off it. To them, not-for-profit is the very definition of socialism. I mean, why use low-paid G.I.s for traditional military chores like logistical support and warehouse and facilities management when for-profit civilian contractors can do it at a much higher markup to taxpayers? The dogma that the private sector is always “better” at creating jobs is a noble-sounding, Chamber of Commerce conceit. Lipstick on the old for-profit pig.
The proper response to “Which is better at creating jobs, government or the private sector?” is something like: “Which is better for hammering nails, a brick or a stapler?” Every organization does some things better than others. Neither a brick nor a stapler is good for driving nails. Each has its use. In a pinch, you might use either to drive nails, but it’s not what they are for.
Just like the private sector, the government, and jobs. That’s what makes Fiscal Conservative’s question pointless except as a political litmus test. Neither one is designed for creating jobs. If they do, it’s merely incidental. Businesses – corporations, at the very least – are organized to generate profit first and foremost. If they can do that without hiring anyone, they will. Or without producing anything useful at all, for that matter. Ask Goldman Sachs.
But some people insist that the world be black or white. When Fiscal Conservative insisted that government cannot create jobs, I pointed out that the defense industry employs hundreds of thousands of workers in private-sector jobs paid for with tax dollars. That didn’t count, he said. (Somehow, I think it counts to defense workers.)
“Why doesn’t it count?” I asked. Fiscal Conservative couldn’t say.