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Posts Tagged ‘socialism’

Freedom and Equality

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This is likely the most familiar and oft-quoted statement from the Declaration of Independence.  From this statement, we connect freedom with equality.

If every person is created equal and has inalienable rights, they must also have certain freedoms to exercise those rights.  This profound statement initially separated us from the English monarchy, but over time, it accomplished much more.  It’s the basis for ending slavery and granting women equal suffrage and property rights.  Granted it took a long time for some of these concepts to take root in our culture and society, but it has happened.

Our social and political systems have evolved in a positive manner.  However, I believe there is cultural shift occurring which deviates from what was initially envisioned in the Declaration of Independence.  We seem to be embracing the idea that freedom and equality are determined by the outcome.  The goal has become achieving an equal result, rather than an equal opportunity.  I believe the intent of the Founding Fathers and the strength of our country has been the equality of opportunity, not the guarantee of a specific outcome.

Although there can be difficult obstacles and challenges to surmount, anyone can succeed in America.  You don’t have to be of a particular gender, race, religion or social class.  There aren’t any barriers that categorically deny you advancement, which is not the case in many other countries of the world.

Lately, it appears the equality of opportunity is being undermined.  We seem to be slowly moving away from a free-market capitalistic society and drifting towards a socialistic ideal of uniformity.  We are embracing some nebulous idea of fairness, rather than freedom and equality.  We often think it unfair if someone has more fame or fortune than us, and in order for us to be equal, we must all enjoy a similar lifestyle.

I believe we are all created equal by our Creator, but if you study the Scriptures, it is clear the Creator doesn’t define equality as equal results.  He defines it by equal value and worth.  The mere fact that we all have different gifts and talents precludes us from being able to achieve an identical result.

Furthermore, the role of government and society is to create and fair and equal rules, not guarantee a specific result.  History has proven it’s impossible to guarantee equal results for everyone. Such attempts have only created a different class of “haves” and “have-nots”.   These countries usually have a large majority who suffer while those who chart the course to equality benefit greatly.

America has a unique connection with freedom and equality.  As we celebrate our Independence via the signing of the Declaration of Independence, be thankful for the opportunity we have to be free.   Our freedoms were designed by the Creator, who assures equal value and worth to each person, not a guaranteed end result.

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Social Security Reform: Changing Perceptions

At present, there is a dichotomy in the perceptions and expectations of the Social Security system.  They are:

  • Social Security is a progressive/socialistic system of wealth redistribution – it takes money from one class of people (the workers) and gives it to another (the retirees).
  • Social Security is an individual pension plan – each person who pays into the system is entitled to a guaranteed benefit in return.

Wealth redistribution is contradictory to individual ownership.  The conflict between these perceptions will not be easily reconciled and will need to be confronted before serious reform will take place

A fundamental purpose of Social Security is to make sure that everyone has a basic level of survivor, disability or retirement benefits.  The need for these benefits is based on the presumption that the person does not have the wherewithal to provide for themselves, thus the government must step in to assist.  Whether or not you like the moniker, it is a socialistic concept.  In contrast, pure capitalism allows each person to fend for themself, irrespective of the consequences.

The Social Security Administration has also created an expectation that you will receive future benefits in return for the taxes currently paid in.  Each year you get an earnings history and a projection of your future benefits.  This is very analogous to a defined benefit pension plan, in which you are guaranteed a lifetime benefit based on your age and earnings history.  Armed with this information, is it any wonder people have a perception and expectation that they are entitled to a certain benefit and any potential reduction is seen as taking something that belongs to them?

I believe that politicians have been quite happy with this contradiction.  On the one hand, they argue that Social Security is a vital social program that must be funded.  On the other, the promise of a future benefit is justification for collecting taxes presently to fund their current spending (and overspending) habits.  Politicians have positioned Social Security to be a social program and an individual pension plan at the same time.

Lest you misread what I haven’t written, I believe Social Security does provide an important social purpose.  I may not agree with how benefits are calculated and administered, but taking care of the most vulnerable in our society is a good thing.

However, the promise and expectation of future benefits has allowed politicians throughout the decades to raise Social Security taxes and redirect the surpluses into other government programs.  A pension administrator would be guilty of breaching their fiduciary duty (maybe even fraud) if they managed your private pension assets the way the government has mismanaged Social Security.  Of course the politicians revert back to the argument that it’s a government social program, not an individual retirement account to justify their reallocation of Social Security taxes.

In the end, the politicians love the dichotomy, because they can triangulate between the two arguments to serve their immediate purpose.

True reform to Social Security should include a resolution of the conflicting principles and perceptions.  Either it’s a social program designed to provide basic retirement benefits for those who are most in need, and you have no entitlement to receive back any of the taxes you have paid.  Or, it’s a government sponsored pension plan whereby the administrators need to be held accountable for how the money is collected, disbursed and managed.

It can effectively be one or the other, but history has proven it can’t be both.  Let the debate begin and allow the American people decide what they want… after all… we are footing the bill.

Vilifying CEO’s

The latest dustup surrounding BP CEO Tony Hayward involved his weekend excursion to the Isle of Wight off the shores of England to watch his yacht “Bob” compete in a race.  Many people were upset and quick to criticize his trip.  Some Gulf Coast residents took it as another sign that he was uncaring and heartless.  White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel, chimed in with criticism.  To me that was a bit hypocritical given that his boss, President Obama, and Vice President Biden found time on Saturday to play a round of golf near Washington.

A BP spokesman felt it necessary to make a statement that it was the CEO’s first day off since the accident occurred on April 20, 2010.  I recognize there is a difference between playing golf a few miles away from home and traveling to Europe.  Two things to keep in mind however… this isn’t President Obama’s first vacation since this disaster; he spent Memorial Day weekend in Chicago with his family.  Furthermore, Tony Hayward’s family lives in England, not along the Gulf Coast.

The explosion and subsequent oil leak by the Deepwater Horizon rig is a disaster of epic proportion.  Both the BP and the government should be doing everything they can to stop the oil leak, clean up the mess and restore the environment as best they can.

But at the same time… what is the expectation of President Obama and Tony Hayward?  Should they don a pair of waders and be sucking up oil in the marshes?  Maybe they should strap on some scuba gear and go plug the hole.

These are not reasonable expectations. You may not personally like either man, but both of President Obama and Tony Hayward are chief executives.  Their roles should be strategic, not boots on the ground. They need to put good people in charge, monitor progress and get out of the way.

I don’t have a problem with the President or any CEO taking time off.  Everyone needs a break.  Even soldiers who are in a war zone need time off to be refreshed.  If you never have a day off, it won’t be long before you crash and burn… whether you’re a soldier, a laborer, the President, or a CEO.

In my opinion, the criticism of Tony Hayward is indicative of the current viewpoint held by many politicians and journalists.  There is a not-so-subtle message that business is bad and government is good.  It’s how the chief executives of the two organizations primarily involved in the crisis are treated very differently.  One is getting a necessary break, and the other is an uncaring scoundrel. Unfortunately, the vilifying of business executives is not isolated to BP.  The leaders of Wall Street banks, health insurance companies, and other major oil companies have become the favorite punching bags and villains of choice.

You may have little sympathy for CEO’s and wonder why this concerns you.  It matters because it’s the CEO’s and entrepreneurs who create wealth in our society.  Government does not create wealth… successful businesses do.

Microsoft made Bill Gates the richest man in the world, but he wasn’t the only one.   His former partner Paul Allen is also a billionaire.  Microsoft also made millions for scores of other investors and employees.  Government doesn’t make people wealthy, except for those leaders who profit from their position.  Take for example,  Ilhem Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, who’s 11-year old son recently bought $44 million of real estate in Dubai, even though his father’s annual salary is a mere $228,000 and wasn’t known to be wealthy before assuming office.

The attacks against successful and wealthy people are creating a class warfare mentality. It is resulting in a presumption that you only get rich or successful by taking advantage of someone else or by being dishonest.  It also fosters the idea that wealth redistribution is necessary to counterbalance the injustice.  The challenge with a redistributionist philosophy is who gets to decide how much is too much.  In the U.S., you may be poor in comparison to the likes of Bill Gates, but to the 80% of the world that lives on less than $10 per day, any American is wealthy. 

You may believe in socialism, but I don’t.  I believe in the American system of capitalism and free enterprise. I am not aware of any country in the world that has created the standard of living for such a broad class of people as the United States.  It’s not perfect, but neither is any other system.  I doubt I’ll ever be a CEO of a major corporation, or make it on a list of the rich and famous.  However, I will defend our system which allows me, and anyone else, the opportunity.

I don’t believe in a laissez-faire attitude towards leadership.  Great opportunity must be accompanied by great responsibility.  Greedy, dishonest and immoral executives exist, and they should be fired.  There are also power-hungry, ruthless and immoral politicians, and they should be kicked out of office.

In many countries, cultural warfare is ethnic.  We must be careful in America that we don’t create a class war based on socioeconomic status.  Be wary of anyone who tries to denigrate any group of people, whether it is by race, religion, gender or position.  If people are successful in vilifying CEO’s, know that the door is opened to malign anyone, and you may find yourself under attack.