Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Irish potato famine and contemporary U.S. politics - 2

When a government acts unjustly and fails to protect its most vulnerable constituents, everyone loses. This dynamic is sadly, tragically, visible in North Carolina. If allowed to continue uninterrupted, unjust governments lead to rebellion or tyranny.

In North Carolina, the last two statewide elections have brought the Republican Party a majority in legislature and then the governorship. Republican candidates campaigned on a platform that called for restoring free markets by reducing government regulations, job creation, and tax reduction. North Carolina now has the fifth highest unemployment rate in the nation and has cut unemployment benefits for 170,000 residents. In these policies, I hear echoes of the British government's refusal to aid the Irish during the potato famine.

Also in North Carolina, spending on education is now the 47th lowest in the nation; the state bow spends less on education than it spent in 2007. A fifth year teacher earns less in North Carolina than a beginning teacher earns in several states. Poorly educated people have difficulty in finding a job, much less a well-paying job, and then getting promoted. Meanwhile, the state is cutting the both the individual and corporate income tax rates and broadening the sales tax. Analyses of projected tax law changes consistently predict that the poor will pay more and the rich will receive the largest reductions. In these policies, I hear echoes of the British government's refusal to aid the Irish during the potato famine.

North Carolina, like some other states, has new laws requiring voters to show a government issued ID before voting, reducing the hours for early voting and Sunday voting, authorizing more observers of the voting process, and eliminating checking a single box on the ballot to vote a straight party ticket. Yet less than a dozen alleged cases of people voting fraudulently were reported in the last election cycle. The changes, which to a casual observer may prima facie appear innocuous or even reasonable, are actually partisan efforts to keep the Republicans in power, banning voting practices Democratic voters disproportionately favor. In these policies, I hear echoes of the British government's refusal to aid the Irish during the potato famine.

The fundamental issue here is not Republican vs. Democrat. Some policies pushed by Democrats in Raleigh are no more just than those enacted by Republicans are, e.g., both parties gerrymander districts attempting to obtain as favorable an election result as possible rather than creating districts defined by geographic, political, and other linkages. Democratic Congresses subvert the tax code to suit special interests as much as Republicans do. Excessive government aid, sometimes advocated by well-meaning Democrats, can create a moral hazard, accustoming people and business to government aid in lieu of effectual efforts in a properly regulated market. Democrats, at times have also sought to imposed cumbersome, excessive regulation on markets, e.g., mandating how to abate pollution instead of simply stipulating acceptable levels of pollutants.

No, the fundamental issue is one of justice: a just government consistently strives, in the language of John Rawls, to protect the most vulnerable, assuring equal opportunity and equal liberties for all.

3 comments:

Ted said...

You have raised many issues but no reasonable answers. More spending gets us nowhere if the end goal is not addressed and what it takes to get there. No amount of money will make a kid learn. Do we ever address this issue or try to solve the problem?
How much do we spend on the most vulnerable? It seems every time we add a new genre to the vulnerable, they or their representatives figure out a way to abuse our best intentions. Why not do the best for everyone and make it legal. I forget we don’t have justice; we have laws and lawyers whose main goal is to make people innocent. We also have compassion for those who lie, cheat, steal, or murder and feel it’s not their fault. On the other side we have prosecutors and police officials who misrepresent the facts or truths and innocent people go to jail. They have their immunity and get away with it and the taxpayer has to pay for the injustice.
Republicans or Democrats are both the same. They get elected talking about changes or helping others, and then when in office it is all about being reelected. Their malfeasances are shoved under the rug and seldom do they get prosecuted. Gerrymandering, not the party in power, should be done by computer and leave the politics out of it.
I think having an ID for voting is fine. No it is not an issue for voting fraud; but it does make it easier for the voting officials. Been there, done that.
Straight party voting is wrong. If you want to vote for candidates, then check the box for them. Many people had no idea of who was running or did they understand that straight party voting is limited to a few offices. You have to manually vote for the others. People who go through neighborhoods picking up people to vote and giving them a sample ballot with just straight party checked is not Democracy. A union official can not tell people how to vote; but others can and do.
If you or any other individual wants to complain, you have to have a reasonable and working answer.
There is no real answer to many of these issues without making and sticking to ideas we all will reject.
God help us as we can’t. “Pity me” is the rallying call for all income groups.
By the way, where is John Rawls or other followers while we slaughter innocents in other countries and brag about it.

DNP said...

Your last two posts really resonate with me. Over here the full story behind the Irish Famine is not widely known and is a part of the revision of history that always happens when something is embarassing.

Anonymous said...

My somewhat dim recollection of Ango-Irish history suggests more than neglect on the part of the British. Like a lot of European countries, the British supported a vestige of feudalism with lots of poor Irish tenant farmers and Anglo landlords. They grew grain for export, leaving the Irish to survive on new world potatoes (cloned from a limited gene pool). So when potato blight hit, it was a widespread disaster. A lot of bad policy and bad luck all mixed together, prior to the absence of British relief.