What is a job creator?

     I am, as usual, concerned about the real content of a word or phrase.  One of those phrases is “job creator”, a term that is used by those who would like to see the tax rate on the wealthiest one percent reduced, or at least kept at its present, historically low level.  The define “job creators” as those people whose income is in the top one percent of United States taxpayers.  What concerns me about using the term “job creator” to apply to all of these people across the board is that there is no real way to tell, simply from the fact that a person has earnings of a million dollars, that that person has actually created jobs in America, or, for that matter, anywhere at all.  After all, the person could be extremely wealthy and is simply living an indolent life supported by income from interest or dividends. 

     What concerned me most particularly was the one tax return made public by the Republican candidate for president, Mitt Romney.  It is one of Romney’s main sales pitches that he is the quintessential job creator, that his wealth has, by his telling, been generated specifically by job creator activities.  What concerned me was that Romney’s tax return contained the information that, for the last ten years, he has been taking advantage of something called the Foreign Investment Tax Credit.  Whatever may be the specifics of Romney’s use of the Foreign Investment Tax Credit, we can most assuredly draw one concllusion:  for the last ten years, Mitt Romney has been heavily invested in foreign economies.  In other words, he may indeed be a job creator, but the jobs that he has been creating have been created in foreign countries.  I have no idea whether the money he keeps in his Swiss bank accounts and his Cayman Island bank accounts are similarly creating jobs in foreign countries, but his use of the Foreign Investment Tax Credit is undeniable evidence of precisely what it says:  Mitt Romney’s investments are, by and large, in the creation of jobs in foreign countries.

     As a pure investment strategy, that is likely quite wise.  The American market has been seriously damaged by the tax and regulation policies put in place from 2000 to 2008.  Foreign economies, particularly that of India and Southeast Asia, are still growing, and, if your interest is in increasing your personal fortune, and in paying as little in United States taxes as possible, then investing in those countries and taking advantage of the Foreign Investment Tax Credit, is definitely a good idea.

     If, on the other hand, you are interested in helping the American economy, if you want to claim that you are a job creator who creates jobs in the United States, investing in foreign economies and then taking advantage of the Foreign Investment Tax Credit, far from helping, actually hurts the American economy, in two ways.  First of all, it creates a job in a foreign country that might have been created here.  Secondly, it reduces the investor’s taxes and so reduces the money the United States government could take in to reduce the terrible deficit that was created in the first decade of this century.

     All this makes it obvious that people of great wealth or large income are not, by the simple fact of their wealth, job creators.  So, who is a job creator?  It is really not all that hard to figure out.  A job creator is a person who, by his or her conduct, causes jobs to exist in the United States.  How are jobs created?  They are created when someone makes or does something in the United States that a lot of people buy.  So, for instance, the Ford Motor Company, by virtue of its recent remarkable renaissance, has added any number of American workers who are putting out a very exciting group of products that are being purchased by consumers in the United States and around the world.  One can think of many such examples, but the example of the Ford Motor Company works to illustrate the point.  Who, then, are the job creators at Ford Motor Company?

     Well, certainly Bill Ford is a job creator.  When the recession hit, Bill Ford went on television and said that he “got it” and that he was going to bend all his efforts to seeing that Ford put out a more attractive product.  He did just that, and he succeeded, likely beyond even his own dreams.  What he did, however, would have been futile, would have failed entirely, if his product had not been properly designed and manufactured and if his product had not been purchased.  So the two other job creators here are at least as important as Bill Ford.  The first are the workers themselves.  If the workers are not diligent and productive, the Ford product is less valuable and more expensive.  American workers have the highest productivity rate in the world.  The American worker is just as much a job creator as Bill Ford, and clearly far more productive than the mere investor who simply sits by and waits for the dividends or increase in the stock price.

     Secondly, and probably the greatest job creator of all, is the consumer.  It is the consumer of the American product that makes the manufacturer add jobs — the more Ford cars that are sold, the more people Bill Ford needs to satisfy the demand.  It frankly drives me crazy to listen to people complain about the lack of American jobs when those people drive around in BMW’s and Audis and Mercedes.  Go through any parking lot and count the number of foreign cars.  I guarantee you that there will be far more foreign cars than American cars.  If you buy American, you will be a job creator, and those jobs will be American jobs.  If all the cars and trucks in America were made in America, there would be no unemployment, no recession, no deficit.

     So who is a job creator?  Well, first and foremost, you are.  Mitt Romney?  Not so much. 

Voter ID’s

     There is an old saying:  Not to philosophize is to philosophize.  The word “philosophize” in this context means generally to speak or act in accord with a given set of first principles.  To philosophize is to identify and critique those first principles, to do what Socrates referred to as examining your life.  For Socrates, doing this, identifying and critiquing the basic principles by which you live your life, was so important that he famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  (I refrain from identifying the wag who subsequently said, “The unlived life is not worth examining.”)

     Whether you do examine the principles upon which you act or not, however, you do have some.  Everyone has to start somewhere.  So it is possible, by watching what a person does and listening to what a person says, to identify what their first principles are.  To state this another way, there is a logic to even the most bizzare thinking, since a person’s speech and conduct does, or should, follow consistently from the principles upon which they base their lives.

     There are those moments, however, when a  person’s speech does not accord with that person’s conduct.  There are also those moments when a person says something that contradicts something else that person says.  When that happens, it is an indication that the speaker’s first principles are not what that speaker claims that those principles are.  The inconsistency makes identifying the speaker’s first principles more difficult, but not impossible.  As another old saying goes, the truth will out, and if you stare at the overall speech and conduct of a given person or group, you can generally identify the real first principles.

     Sorry for the philosophical blather, but I said all of that in order to say this.  All political parties in the United States claim “freedom” as a first principle.  “Freedom” is one of those terms like “justice” and “liberty” and, for that matter, “love” (that last one is beyond my pay grade), terms that are often boldly asserted but almost never defined.  Roughly speaking, however, “freedom” in its political sense is most often identified with yet another ill-defined term:  democracy.  Democracy as an ideal was best described in Lincoln’s immortal words:  government by the people, for the people and of the people.  It is, in whatever representative form it takes, the participation of the people in choosing how their government will operate.

     Among the many ways that that participation takes place, probably the most prominent is the right to vote.  We in the United States do not exercise that right as fully as we should.  It is the rare campaign that draws more than fifty percent of the people to the polls.  Nevertheless, the fact that practically every adult in the country has the right to vote is a signal indicator that ours is a democracy and that freedom is a fundamental first principle of our way of life.

     Those who are presently in charge of the Republican party loudly agree that freedom is a first, if not the first, principle of our government.  Consistent with that statement, they vigorously pursue a program of eliminating government restraint on individual actions.  They wish, for instance, to eliminate governmental regulation wherever possible.  They want, and largely have succeeded in obtaining, the removal of any regulation on the ownership and possession of firearms.  They demand that the government play no role in things like health care.

     In all of these pursuits, these people act and speak consistently with their idea of freedom, which is, by and large, an idea of freedom as the absence of restraint.  So it strikes me as exceedingly inconsistent for these same people to demand restraints on the right to vote.  Their stated reason for doing so is to eliminate fraud.  A noble goal, except that there has been absolutely no showing that there is any significant problem with fraud at America’s polling stations.  There is absolutely no doubt that imposing voter ID’s would effectively disenfranchise two groups:  the poor and the elderly.  Yet there has been no demonstration, nor even any effort at a demonstration, that imposing the ID requirement would produce any benefit to compensate for this serious deprivation of a core democratic right. 

     That leaves us with only one option.  The demand for voter ID’s is so inconsistent with the insistence on personal freedom that we are forced to assume that there is another, more basic principle at work here.  Sadly, that principle amounts to a grave accusation — that those presently in charge of the Republican party hold another principle more dear than freedom and democracy.  That other principle can only be the assumption and retention of control of the reins of government.  This is a frightful accusation, a serious condemnation of people who have, presumably, given their lives to public service.  It is, however, unavoidable, given their statements and conduct.  It is also, quite likely, a key to why the political scene, always messy at best, is now in such a state of chaos.  The people’s work seems almost irrelevant.  The country is being constantly put on the edge of bankruptcy in pursuit of the principle of power. Until this stops, until our representatives turn from pursuing their own power and face the real problems of our country, we will continue to suffer the erosion of our rights and the degradation of our way of life.

A Rational Discussion of Abortion

     Let us have a rational discussion about abortion.  By “rational”, I mean a discussion in which the various possible positions are presented and the basic principles upon which those positions are taken are set forth and made available for examination.  This would contrast with, for instance, shooting a doctor who performs abortions, or calling people who oppose abortions utter morons. 

     Let us start by putting forth the most basic principle of ethical discussion, one that has been recognized by all the great thinkers from Plato to, well, whoever was the last great thinker (I am suppressing the observation that he or she died some time ago).  That principle is:  Ethical considerations can only be made between two goods.  There is no ethical conflict in a choice between a good and an evil.  So if a choice needs any discussion or debate, it can only be because there are valid interests in conflict.  The characterization of one side or another in a true ethical debate as, for instance, evil or demented is therefore not rational discussion but political propoganda.  Nothing illustrates such propoganda better than the person who announces that his or her position is “a matter of simple justice.”  Justice is, by its very nature, complex.  So to say that the death penalty is “a matter of simple justice” is only to say that you are right and everyone who does not agree with you is choosing an evil.  That is political propoganda.  Such talk is not allowed here at wethecenter, so what we will do instead is try to give a reasoned analysis of the opposing positions on abortion.

     I start with the following first principle:  fertilized ova are human.  Granted, they do not talk or vote or borrow your car just yet, but we all know that when the ovum of a human woman is fertilized by the sperm of a human man, the result is an inchoate human being.  It is not something that will, at some point, become human.  That position is impossible to hold.  If, for instance, we hold that a being is human when it talks, or when it reasons, then we open possibilities that we don’t even want to think about, such as allowing the killing of infants or the severely mentally disabled.  This position actually existed at common law in previous centuries.  It is abhorrent, precisely because we recognize that most fundamental of ethical principles:  Thou shalt not kill.  And that principle is most fundamental only if we recognize that each human life, by its very nature, imposes upon us an obligation.  I will get back to this, but, assuming that it is that fundamental, all human life is ethically protected, including inchoate human life.  Therefore, first principles:  a fertilized ovum is human.

     Second principle:  there are circumstances in which a human life may ethically be taken.  I am not sure that there is anyone outside of the Dalai Lama who lives with the principle that no human life may ever be taken, however even the Dalai Lama is put in positions where his actions result in putting other lives at risk.  Unless you are a total pacifist, you likely have supported wars, which are an abandonment of that fundamental tent against killing.  More than that, however, we endorse policies that no doubt lead to human deaths.  So, for instance, we not only allow smoking but actually provide federal subsidies for the growing of tobacco.  Yet we know that smoking kills 100,000 people per year in the United States alone, and one of our major exports is cigarettes, so we are subsidizing an activity that leads to death all over the world.  We have passed federal regulations that clearly accept a certain amount of risk of fatalities, such as permissible exposure to chemicals.  We allow cars to be manufactured with certain equipment, knowing that, as presently equipped, a large number of people will be killed.  Aside from these situations, we are also subject to being put in personal situations where we must choose an action which results in the death of another human being.  So, for instance, we are faced with either hitting another car or swerving and hitting a pedestrian, knowing that either action will likely result in a human death.  (I should note here that I think the so-called principle of double effect is complete hooey.) 

     With these two principles in place, we can then go to the question:  are there circumstances in which it is ethical to choose the death of the unborn child — not foetus, not fertilized ovum, but  unborn child (see first principle)?  If you say no, and if you base that on the fundamental principle that it is always wrong to take another life, then you had best be prepared for the consequences.  You must be against all war, against the death penalty, and you must be for the most stringent federal safety regulations on products.  And, by the way, while I disagree with you, I admire your unflinching commitment to human life.

     If, however, you say no, but also endorse war and capital punishment and the elimination of federal safety regulations, then you are just dishonest.  Even if your basic principle is that it is always wrong to take an innocent human life, then you have to condemn war anyway, because it always involves the taking of innocent human lives, and you have to condemn capital punishment because it has clearly resulted in the execution of people who were subsequently discovered to have been innocent. 

     So, as a matter of practical fact, we are faced with true ethical conflicts in which we must decide whether to take a human life.  Abortion is one of those conflicts.  There are, for instance, situations in which an abortion would save the life of the mother.  There are also situations in which abortion prevents some other moral wrong from occurring.  It might save existing children from starving.   It might save the mother from having her psyche completely destroyed.  There are a host of situations in which we could legitimately ask whether abortion is ethically permissible.

     There are, however, actually two questions here.  The first is in what circumstances an abortion is ethically permissible.  The second question is really the question that is being debated in the poltical arena today, and it is this:  Who should be permitted to make such ethical decisions?  More particularly, and here is the very heart of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, should the government make that decision, or should it be made by the pregnant woman? 

     One of the ways we could decide that is by looking to see if there are parallel situations where such decisions have previously been made.  Let me throw a few out there.  Men and women choose to be sterilized.  Men and women also choose to use devices that prevent pregnancy — condoms, etc.  It has been suggested, most recently by some people running for the presidency of the United States, that contraceptives should be outlawed or put under government control.  Granted that contraception is the prevention rather than the taking of a human life, but clearly some feel tha the practice is morally reprehensible.  So who should decide that?  At least so far in the United States, we have decided that the individual should decide that.  How about smoking?  That is in fact not only the taking of one’s own life, but also placing the lives of others at risk.  Who should decide that?  Again, we have decided that the individual should decide.  On the other hand, we allow government to control the use of drugs and the use of dangerous chemicals.  We clearly allow the government to decide who should be executed for a given crime. 

     No matter which way you decide the question, you will be faced with a conflict of principles, and that is precisely true of all ethical debates.  If you want the government to decide when an abortion should be permitted, it might very well conflict with your basic belief that government should not be allowed to interfere with out personal lives.  If you want the individual to decide, it might very well conflict with your basic belief that government should play a larger role in our economy and the regulation of certain activities.  Ethical decisions are always like that.  They involve the choosing of one good over another. 

     I am frankly not sure what the best principles are in deciding whether or not to have an abortion.  I would certainly find it abhorrent to have an abortion merely for the sake of convenience.  At base, though, I cannot believe that the government should be making those kinds of decisions. 

     There you have it — a rational discussion of abortion.  All rational discourse in response is invited, and will be analyzed rationally.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we did this kind of thing with all our political issues?