More Hypocrisy The Size Of Texas

We’ve all seen how Republicans in Texas have fallen in love—deeply, madly in love—with socialism. Just this morning, CNN interviewed yet another Texas lawmaker, who was once all concerned about “offsets” for federal spending for Hurricane Sandy relief in the northeast. Needless to say, this lawmaker didn’t want to talk today about offsets for Hurricane Harvey recovery. Nope. The concept of offsets was either blown away by the storm or perhaps drowned in the poison floodwaters of a regulation-hating state.

Even more hypocrisy was evident on CNN this morning during Michael Smerconish’s program. His first guest was Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who bragged about going after price gougers, the ultimate free marketeers. You would think that hard-core Republicans like Paxton (who, as an aside, is leading the fight against DACA) would applaud those who are taking advantage of the situation, who are just using market principles to make a fast buck. After all, since Moses was a toddler conservatives have extolled the virtues of unfettered free markets and the magic they make. Tr-mp boasts constantly about all the deregulation he is doing, supposedly freeing up businesses that are, allegedly, hamstrung by regulations so they can “compete” in a “free” market.

Ken Paxton told us he has his posse out looking for the gougers and will throw the book at them, as if they were the worst kind of criminals. Earlier in the week Paxton made the same argument he made this morning:

There’s nothing wrong with a free market, but this isn’t a free market. This is an unusual market where you have a storm like that that creates such devastation.

Hmm. An “unusual market”? So? So what? Can’t a person profit from unusual markets? If I were smart enough to look ahead and buy hundreds of cases of water at $4 a pop, then could sell them for $99, what’s wrong with that? Here’s what Paxton thinks is wrong with it:

People are in crisis. They’re experiencing great difficulty, so we’re trying to protect people from opportunists who take advantage of people in difficult times.

Opportunists? Difficult times? Some people don’t need hurricanes to make their lives difficult. They live in difficult times with or without massive storms, yet they are priced out of a lot of markets by opportunists, especially opportunists in the pharmaceutical industry. What makes this situation different? Why shouldn’t motels and hotels be allowed to triple their room rates during times like this? Why shouldn’t convenience stores be allowed to charge $20 a gallon for gas? What is the ken paxton price gougingmoral distinction between charging whatever the market will bear for a good or service a week before the hurricane as opposed to a week after? Why does free market-loving, regulation-hating Texas even have laws against price gouging? Why do the other 33 or so other states have such laws?

Well, most of us can see why. It hits us in our guts. We know in our bones that it is morally reprehensible to make quick money off other people’s misery or their dire need. We know it is plain wrong to sell for $100 something that last week cost $4, just because a hurricane made such free market transactions—and make no mistake about it, they are free market transactions—possible. Yes, we can see that. It is obviously morally unjustifiable.

Well, it isn’t obvious to everyone. Some people, other than the gougers, think they can justify it. I used to faithfully read a publication called The Freeman, which up until last year had been published, beginning in 1950, by a group called the Foundation for Economic Education. The FEE, its leaders say, is a libertarian think tank focused on bringing “about a world in which the economic, ethical, and legal principles of a free society are familiar and credible to the rising generation” [their emphasis]. None other than philosopher and economist Friedrich Hayek, a god of economics on the right who won a Nobel prize, said:

The Foundation for Economic Education is committed to nothing more nor less than the defense of our civilization against intellectual error.

That kind of intellectual snootiness is characteristic of most libertarians (and conservataives), who believe they and only they understand how the world works. Trust me, they really believe that. They think most of us out here are just ignorant rubes. In any case, you may have guessed that the libertarians at places like FEE actually think price gougers are good guys. Yep. They really do. Here’s an article published last Monday:

Texas Price Gougers Are Hurricane Heroes

Yes. The guy charging $99 bucks for a $4 case of water is a goddamned hero! I will allow you to personally examine the ridiculous arguments (which I have addressed many times) that support such a stunning claim, but I want to say two things about those arguments.

One, libertarians—and the many Republicans who have bought into their economic philosophy—don’t seem to factor into their tidy intellectual analysis the fact that people are motivated to do good by things other than making an easy dollar. We actually see that profit-less motivation going on in Texas, as folks get in their own little boats, use their own gas, and go about rescuing people.

Two, always beware of someone selling a counter-intuitive laissez-faire idea on the grounds that regulation of markets “hurts the very people who need our help most.” All you have to do to refute that bullshit claim is look at the modern Republican Party—whose leaders push the economic philosophy that in its purest form turns price gougers into heroes—and ask yourself: are these Republicans, and their rich donors seeking tax cuts, trying to help the folks who need our help the most?

The ongoing tragedy in Texas should clearly demonstrate, for all time, at least two things: Price gougers are not heroes, and redistributing wealth in order to help people in need—democratic socialism—is heroic. For now, even most Republicans can see that, even if they won’t put it in those terms. But soon, after the water has receded and the cleanup cash is on its way, I am betting they will go back to their old ways: unfettered free markets are good and socialism is bad!

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6 Comments

  1. I will allow you to personally examine the ridiculous arguments (which I have addressed many times) that support such a stunning claim

    Maybe another time, when I haven’t just eaten nor am planning to eat any time soon. And when I haven’t heard them before from some other wholly-owned subsidiary of the Koch brothers:

    http://commonsenseeconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/Sacrificing_Lives_for_Profits_CSE.pdf

    The charge that sways juries and offends public sensitivities, and helps explain the large awards, is that greedy corporations sacrifice human lives to increase their profits. Is this charge true? Of course it is. But this isn’t a criticism of corporations; rather it is a reflection of the proper functioning of a market economy. Corporations routinely sacrifice the lives of some of their customers to increase profits, and we are all better off because they do. That’s right, we are lucky to live in an economy that allows corporations to increase profits by intentionally selling products less safe than could be produced. The desirability of sacrificing lives for profits may not be as comforting as milk, cookies, and a bedtime story, but it follows directly from a reality we cannot wish away.

    In your reply to Tony Wills’ comment on your “Why I Have To Repent” post, you refer to his “devotion to free-market theology”. I submit that, in the paragraph I quote above, Dwight Lee has written the purest example of free-market theology we could ever hope to see regret seeing. This is not the argument of a scientist explaining his science, be it ever so dismal; this is the argument of a mystic explaining that we’re all better off because the priesthood routinely offers up some hearts to Huitzilopochtli.

    (This, of course, is why it’s probably futile to try and pound nails of sense into the dense wood-like substance rogerbtaney Anson likes to pretend is his head. His politics are his religion, and his religion is his economics.)

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  2. Anonymous

     /  September 3, 2017

    I am curious to see how the flooded chemical plants as well as the numerous flooded super fund sites will be handled In Texas. For the people of Texas, I hope the EPA gets in there quickly and limits the damage. For the politicians in Texas I have to ask, what the Hell were you guys thinking? I just read where 85% of the scientific positions in the Trump administration are unfilled and DO NOT EVEN HAVE NOMINEES. These are not positions that all need to be confirmed either. They just want to destroy the EAP. So much so that Scott Pruitt, he who led to the pollution of nearby Grand Lake, and a coal lobbyist, now run the EAP.
    I have many question for the Texan politicians who have called for the EPA and other government agencies to be eliminated or cut back. Have you lined up the corporations responsible for these polluted sites? If no, why not? If there is no government, what is your plan now? You cannot continue to try to fool us anymore. You do not get to have it both ways anymore. Either you want to be part of the US, or you don’t. We cannot keep giving you money while you threaten to secede every time you do not get your way. Your citizens are now at serious risk, what will you do?
    I again call for Texas to offer collateral for the billions that will be needed to fix your state if you still insist on leaving the US. After spending time in Texas many times during my military career in neighboring New Mexico I can say that I always enjoyed my time there and met many fine people. Although that was in the 80s, I am sure I would feel the same today. Its your politicians that I despise. They have opposed all help for others, including Sandy, Katrina, and the auto bail outs.Now they eagerly come to the tax payers and seemingly tell us that you were just kidding about all that. In my opinion, the Texas politicians are at the forefront of the nasty political climate we now live in. It is time we all loudly call these hypocrites for what they are and put a stop to their nonsense.

    Kevin Beck

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  3. Anonymous

     /  September 3, 2017

    I lived in Texas for about 15 years. Nowhere does Randian hypocrisy run so deep and embrace such a large percentage of a region’s leadership. The religionists are notoriously corrupt. The education department is heavily influenced by the corrupt religionists. Bidnessmen run the politicians and the grateful taxpayers (Texans pay no state income tax) — “educated” by a revisonist/nitwitish school system — happily elect people like Louie Gohmert, Greg Abbot, Ted Cruz, John Cornyn. It’s Fox News haven and the Randian masters — whose philosophy is predicated on carefully groomed hypocrisy — gorge on the non-working brains of the residents. Too harsh? I repeat: Louie Gohmert.

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  4. ansonburlingame

     /  September 4, 2017

    Duane,

    Stories of (descriptions of actual events perhaps) greed, gouging, looting, insurance fraud, etc. following a disaster are always going to be revealed, just as they were after our tornado. Don’t forget the actions of the Missouri Attorney General (a Democrat) soon after our own disaster, going after both looters and gougers, or was it fraud, and prosecutions that followed. As well note the rampant illegal conditions in New Orleans, looting primarily, that were quelled only after the active duty military was sent in to regain control. I recall the “cajun Major General” that had strong words to say about such conditions and the people conducting themselves as such. He and his troops did what is always needed after a disaster, protect and defend the citizens in the area.

    As mentioned before, I visited New Orleans several times after Katrina. The last time, 5 years after the Hurricane, the leading headlines in local paper was prosecution of business men that collected millions in “recovery efforts” illegally. Trash haulers in particular were prosecuted and found guilty. I don’t know the penalties awarded but…… As well cops were prosecuted as well, local cops. While it “ground slowly”, the law in fact worked to some degree, at least.

    I hoped you saw 60 minutes last night, a recap of flood insurance fraud after Sandy Hook. Again the legal process is taking a lot of time, but it is in fact grinding away, even within the ranks of FEMA, according to 60 Minutes at least.

    I predict the BIG issue after Harvey is going to be countless homes that did NOT have flood insurance. My guess is the federal government is going to spend $ Billions replacing such homes. The law did not require flood insurance but ………

    So, I ask, as usual, where does all the taxpayer money come from to help areas recover? By and large it comes from an increase in the National Debt. Short term that is OK with me but I remain convinced that the debt incurred must be repaid.

    Say the federal bill for Harvey comes out to be $100 Billion (probably too low). Fine, appropriate the money thru Congressional action, see the debt go up and THEN levy a federal income tax surcharge on all taxpayers until that debt is repaid. “Not a nickel for defense” from such funds (or food stamps, etc., etc..) just pay the bill for Harvey in say two or three years of higher taxes on all Americans.

    I also repeat my previous question, did Joplin get shortchanged in federal money after our tornado? I have not heard many complaints today but sure remember arguments in 2011 that we would not get enough help. Did we? If not, where did Joplin NOT receive the help needed (and still getting it as I review our proposed City budget for this coming fiscal year)?

    Your blog of course is basically saying capitalism will never produce the money needed for those that need it. Ok, assume you are correct. Then what must we do I ask? If you are smart enough to propose a new economic system I am all ears. Capitalism, communism and socialism between seems to be the argument. Is it time for someone to “invent” a new way, a way that actually pays for that which is needed?

    Oh, might I ask as well, did NJ and NY actually receive the needed financial aid following Sandy Hook? I don’t know, do you? As well, have we the people actually paid for that aid, yet? Again, I don’t know.

    Anson

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  5. “Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under socialism, the reverse is true.” – Polish Proverb

    “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” – Winston Churchill

    Since World War II, the advance of the industrial/communications/technology revolution and the concomitant rise of Capitalism has captured the entire planet. Free, democratic countries like Japan, and even not-so free countries like Iran, are all part of the bandwagon called Globalization. The shared ethic is wealth; its accumulation and its growth. Human Rights are tolerated only if they be used in the service of those aims. Morality is subordinate to profit maximization.

    I don’t think I can say it any better than Dr Samir Naim-Ahmed in his April 21, 2007, essay, “Human Rights And Globalization,” that appears in http://www.countercurrents.org/ahmed210407.htm

    “[With globalization] everything has to be dealt with as a market commodity judged by its economic value rather than its social value. So governments find themselves in a very paradoxical situation. If they try to abide by UN human rights agreements which they signed, they would be violating the globalization agreements, which they also signed! and they would be criticized or even penalized for this violation (by cutting the aids offered to them by international institutions), and if they try to abide by globalization agreements they would be necessarily violating the human rights agreements and would be criticized for that in the human right reports and the UN statistics on human development would show them lagging behind in indices of human development!

    “Transnational corporations which are steering the economic globalization are not at all directed by ethical or humanitarian principles. The maximization of profit is the major if not the only driving force for all their activities. [Therefore, what is needed is] a government which is capable of making economy in the service of man instead of making man a victim and a slave for the market economy.”

    To the extent Capitalism dominates economic globalization, then the objective of profit maximization means that workers are disposable, natural resources are expendable, individual liberties are compromised, accountability and responsibility are diminished, and authoritarianism and imperialism breach the social contract and eat away at democracy.

    More than that, Capitalism has replaced religion as the single most powerful force in society, foreign and domestic. But, the Atheist and Humanist Zeitgeist these days is to purge the human race of the evils of religion. Once they do that, if they can do that, then maybe, just maybe, they will take on the task, as suggested by Dr. Naim-Ahmed, of helping to restore our form of government to “making economy in the service of man.”

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  6. Anonymous

     /  September 10, 2017

    How ironic this past week that Rep Vicki Hartzler calls for more free lunches while the Rep Congress wants to eliminate over time pay and give people “time off” instead. First, the OT law will be a fiasco. Who will keep track of the hours and who will assure that people do not get fired when they build up too much time? How will an employee afford to take a week off? How will a company that requires overtime get by without those same employees? Makes no sense to me.
    Anyways, what I see happening here is that pay and benefits are so low that the federal government must step in pick up the financial slack for employees. It is corporate welfare at its finest. But as Duane calls for, why not truly let the free market play out. It would be a rough ride, but what if the federal government did not pick up the slack created by corporate greed? Then we will witness a true capitalist society. I’m all in, what have I been thinking all these years?

    Kevin Beck

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