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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ann-Marie Slaughter's Accidental Insight

Ann-Marie Slaughter has an interesting op-ed in the Washington Post today about her new position as President and Chief Executive at the "New America Foundation."  Her main point seems to be that our democracy is based on community, and that we need to do more for caregivers, teachers, etc., and give everybody a decent wage.  In other words, she's a democrat.  I don't really disagree with any of that (except to the extent it is an argument for raising the minimum wage -- as logical as that sounds, I've never heard an economist defend it), but it's hard to imagine how it will be done through government programs.  The basic problem is that our government is so corrupt and inefficient, there's not much it can do to implement policies like these.  Like ObamaCare.  Try to help people, and the result is that the taxpayers and consumers are simply giving more money to corporations.  But then, almost as an afterthought, she says:

"Elevating care alongside competition would have implications for our foreign policy as well. It would underpin a new era of U.S. leadership, affecting where and how we work with other nations on issues of water, food, climate, poverty and the violence that rips apart everyday lives. When we looked at Syria, Egypt or any country menaced by government violence and government failure, we would see not only that government’s political allegiances and its place on the global chessboard. We would also see human beings who want the same things we do: jobs, education, a better life for their children. An uncaring foreign policy will haunt us — through the global ties of our own citizens and through the channels that transmit crime, disease, recession and other ills across borders."

Although her primary agenda is domestic and essentially un-implementable, this paragraph makes perfect sense.  On a domestic level, the kind of "compassion" she preaches costs money and nobody has figured out a way to implement it without distorting everything else (see, e.g., welfare, ObamaCare).  But on the international plane, everything is different.  There, we really should be guided by compassion.  Instead, we tend to be guided by corporate greed.   

I'm not talking about simply giving money to other countries to help them solve their problems -- that's never worked in the past; the money never gets to the people who need it and the problems just get worse.   I'm talking about stuff that won't cost the U.S. taxpayer any money at all.  Just become a better world citizen.  Stop letting corporations decide when we go to war and for how long.  Stop letting corporations impose our idea of protectionist capitalism (e.g., our intellectual property policies) on countries that absolutely don't need it.  

Right now, nobody views us as a good world citizen.  We are a rich, arrogant, bumbling nation, that doesn't care one whit if tens of thousands of innocent people are killed as we level a country (Iraq) that we are going to pay our corporations (Halliburton, Bechtel -- not the corporations of the "host" country) to rebuild.   Our drones and other airstrikes routinely kill innocents.  All of this will continue to create generation after generation of terrorists, and we will never be safe, domestically or internationally.

This is not a short-term approach.  I don't know the answer to the Syria question.  Maybe that's a question we should ask the Syrian people -- yes, they've been gassed, but how do they feel about getting bombed by the U.S. as well?  If we were to become a better world citizen -- e.g. share our technology, free from state-created intellectual property restrictions, with countries that need it most -- maybe people would come to see a new American-style compassionate capitalism as the best way to run a country, and would stop allowing dictators and other strong-men to run their countries to the ground.  Maybe the dictators themselves would start treating their citizens better; there's nothing wrong with a dictatorship if the right person is in charge.  And again, maybe it would help prevent so many places on this earth from becoming breeding grounds for anti-American terrorists.

Warning:  Slaughter's piece is hard to get through, even though it's been condensed from an even longer article published in the Weekly Wonk.  The first page is all self-congratulatory; she clearly thinks that she and other professors are smarter than the rest of us, and could solve all of our problems if only given the chance.  The second page is merely a vague recitation of a democratic-progressive agenda.  It's only on the third page that the international point appears, and she only seems to view it as a byproduct of the rest of her vision, as opposed to an end in itself. It's unfortunate that she spent her time in the State Department before having this idea, and it's also unfortunate that she doesn't recognize her own idea for what it's worth.

Update 09/16/13:  Recently, the DC City Council voted to require large retailers like WalMart to pay $12.50 an hour to employees, $4.25 more than the minimum wage.  And even more recently, DC Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed the bill, since it became pretty clear that WalMart would not open any DC stores under those conditions.  I'm not taking sides in this; I'm just trying to make the point that it's much more complex than Slaughter seems to think.  Yes, we can all agree that everyone SHOULD have a wage that's enough to live on.  But simply trying to legislate it will have consequences -- in this case, the really poor people of DC won't get the benefit of the lower prices that WalMart offers, and nobody will get the opportunity to work for Walmart (which many currently unemployed people would otherwise have done, even at the minimum wage).

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